Business media mogul and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines five months ago when he declared that the Republican Party is no longer the party of business.
Was he right?
Bloomberg, a former Republican who became an independent in 2007, has endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. But does Bloomberg’s assessment of the relationship between his former party and the business community point to something? Are the positions staked out by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump on key business issues — notably trade — at odds with traditional stances? Could they potentially drive a wedge between the party’s big-business wing and the small-business and working-class base that helped propel Trump to the nomination?
As with so much in this unorthodox campaign season, it all depends on who’s being asked.
“Donald Trump is an anomaly,” said Charlie Gerow, a prominent political consultant and CEO of Harrisburg-based Quantum Communications.
Trump’s views, including on trade, do not reflect the Republican party as a whole, Gerow said, pointing out that Trump has not consistently been registered as a Republican for much of his adult life. A Politifact.com analysis of Trump’s political affiliations found that he changed his registration at least five times between 1987 and April 2012, including stints as a Democrat and an independent before returning to the GOP.
“The Republican party is a pro economic growth party,” Gerow said, which includes being in favor of lower taxes and lower regulations.
Trump has said he plans to restore America’s economy by bringing back manufacturing, mining and other industrial work that he says has been lost through offshoring and excessive regulation, but the oft-cited centerpiece of that policy would be hitting companies that offshore manufacturing jobs with an estimated 35 percent duty on goods brought into the country for sale.
Much of Trump’s ire has been directed at the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994, during Bill Clinton’s presidency. But initial negotiations for the agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico began under the administration of Republican George H.W. Bush, with Clinton signing off on the final treaty in 1993.
Former Republican state senator Michael Brubaker acknowledges that not all within the GOP support such trade deals. But he also says Trump “has definitely taken a very strong position on trade,” and questions whether it makes sense to severely curtail the nation’s interaction with global trading partners.
“The U.S. population represents about 4 percent of the world’s population,” said Brubaker, a former Republican state senator from Lancaster County who is now CEO of investment firm Blackford Ventures LLC in Manheim Township.
“If we limit ourselves to dealing with only 4 percent of the world’s population, it’s going to damage our economic vitality,” Brubaker said.
Trade deals, common under Democratic and Republican administrations, typically are negotiated by teams of politicians and bureaucrats. Trump has suggested he would do more “one-on-one” negotiating and include 30-day opt-out clauses for pacts that turn out to be bad for America.
Brubaker cautioned that most trade agreements are “multi-layered deals,” involving “hundreds of thousands of pages of pre-negotiated language,” and that many often incorporate other elements, such as access to military bases and other non-trade concerns.
“It’s very difficult to unravel some of these,” he said.
Like Gerow, Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association President David N. Taylor sees a stark difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to key business issues, especially regarding regulations — which, he said, the Obama administration has heaped on businesses for nearly eight years, from environmental mandates to National Labor Relations Board rulings, many driven, he argued, by Democratic pressure groups.
“It never ends,” Taylor said.
So Taylor does not see the Democrats anywhere near worthy of being called a party of business, but he also doesn’t see Trump as a standard-bearer for pro-business Republicans.
“Donald Trump is a charlatan and a demagogue and a buffoon and a con-man,” said Taylor — as he has said throughout the campaign season, notably during a March Twitter exchange after U.S. Rep. Tom Marino (R-Lycoming) endorsed Trump.
In Taylor’s view, Trump has successfully tapped into the fear and anger felt by many people suffering the effects of economic dislocation caused by many factors, including what he sees as unfair trade practices pursued by China for nearly 20 years — practices Taylor said both mainstream parties have done little to effectively challenge.
“There’s plenty to be angry about,” Taylor said, but he said Trump is exploiting such anger while failing to offer any coherent policy for addressing that issue, or overregulation or any of the other challenges facing business owners.
“The Clintons are grifters, and to be here on the eve of a Clinton restoration just makes my flesh crawl,” Taylor said. “On the other hand, the alternative of Trump is equally unpalatable.”