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Trump squanders ties to Corporate America

Aug 19, 2017

Don’t buy the White House spin: President Donald Trump didn’t abandon his two panels of corporate CEOs. They abandoned him.

Equating neo-Nazis and white supremacists with counter-protestors, as the president did this week, will do that.

Credit Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Within hours of his comments, leading CEOs – including General Motors’ Mary Barra – worked the phones to look for a way out, preferably without incurring the wrath of the Tweeter-in-Chief.

The answer: hang together to avoid hanging separately. What’s he gonna do? Denounce en masse the corporate CEOs he wooed to his business forums?

When the first wave bolted earlier in the week, led by Merck’s Ken Frazier, Trump slammed the, quote, “grandstanders” he said he could easily replace.

Really? What right-thinking CEO would want to serve as a replacement, considering the presidential Dumpster fire sparked by his latest controversial comments?

None.

That sound you hear is boardrooms across the country heaving a sigh of relief. Better to extricate themselves now with reputations relatively intact than get sucked down one of the president’s self-made rabbit holes.

When Trump used Twitter to announce his decision to disband the panels – to avoid “putting pressure on the businesspeople” – he ended with, “Thank you all.”

It’s the CEOs who should be thanking Trump.

The festering controversy threatened to exact a heavy price on the CEOs and their companies. They faced boycotts and challenges on social media. They fielded complaints from customers and concerns from directors. They tried to assess how -- and whether -- the continued association might damage corporate interests … and diminish shareholder value.

So much for the “honor” of serving on a presidential advisory board.

With each passing day, these things had liability written all over them. With a few exceptions, these business leaders stood by when he signed immigration reforms they did not support.

When he pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord.

When the health care reform he promised failed to make it to his desk.

They could not, however, stand by him after Charlottesville. It’s the kind of association contemporary business leaders heading public companies with scores of customers simply can’t accept.  Not in polite, respectful society.

The CEOs’ decision to disband is a stinging rebuke to Trump.

The real estate mogul-turned-president is quickly losing the support of Corporate America. Its hunger for a more competitive business environment is surpassed only by its aversion to public controversy.

A businessman president losing Big Business is not a good sign for the White House or the Republican majorities in Congress. Confidence is waning in the ability of the president, or his party, to deliver the economic goods as he careens from one self-manufactured crisis to the next.

This kind of behavior would have gotten every CEO on the president’s two advisory panels canned by their directors — and they know it.

The candidate who promised to win so much that winning would become boring is turning out to be the president squandering the support of business.  

Sounds more like a loser to me.

Daniel Howes is a columnist with The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.