High-profile CEOs—including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sunder Pichai and T-Mobile’s John Legere—have trashed Trump for, respectively, his stand on Muslim immigration and the candidate’s criticism of T-Mobile’s phone service.
But Trump also has garnered some open support from other CEOs, including Marvel’s Isaac Perlmutter, Virgin America’s David Cush, Willie Robertson, CEO of Duck Commander, the company at the heart of Duck Dynasty, and Mark Cuban, tech-billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a fixture on ABC’s Shark Tank.
This is not altogether surprising, since Trump did finish No. 1 in the most recent Chief Executive poll of CEOs on their presidential preferences, just as he did in the first such poll six months ago, with about 21% support each time. Marco Rubio finished second in our most recent round, with 19%.
Still, the explanations are a little light on why CEOs effusively praise Trump and why they back him. So here are 6 reasons, both stated and largely unstated, that largely explain why we think some CEOs are gravitating toward Trump.
1. He’s one of their own. More than any who have come with or before him, Trump is a successful business leader first and foremost, and so he understands the highs and lows of running a business. Plus he’s on a first-name basis with, presumably, thousands of CEOs—and not because he wants them to open their wallets for campaign contributions. Imagine the chances of any other presidential candidate referring blithely to a “Carl” in his debate performances and having that be Carl Icahn. “Here’s the deal,” Robertson said last summer. “We’re both successful businessmen, we both have pretty big shows on television, and we both have wives that are 1,000 times better looking than us. So I like Trump.”
2. He believes business is a source of American greatness. When Trump talks about restoring the nation’s greatness, he’s not emphasizing the usual things such as beefing up our military prowess or shining our beacon of democracy on the world. He really means building the U.S. economy back up so that it can become the engine of progress it always has been, which will flow downward to the benefit of every American and many others around the world.
3. He wants to restrain China. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon may not want to hear Trump talk about slapping a 45% tariff on Chinese-made goods, but many other CEOs support the idea of penalizing the Asian giant with U.S. policy in some way, and of generally making the global playing field more advantageous for American business, an idea that Trump continually and robustly advances.
4. He’s not politically correct. Much of the agenda of a typical CEO these days consists of avoiding insensitive actions and even comments. Hemmed in by everyone from internal-diversity police to executive-compensation watchdogs to government regulators to social-media monitors, he is a daily misstep waiting to happen. But Trump doesn’t care about any of that. He says what he thinks, in the way he means to say it, regardless of the fallout. Or, as Cuban put it last summer, “I don’t care what his actual positions are. I don’t care if he says the wrong thing. He says what’s on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years.”
5. He’s a made-in-America guy. The flip side of Trump’s railing against imports from China and Mexico is that he favors American manufacturing. It’s integral to the idea of “Making America Great Again,” his campaign slogan. So along with the non-college-educated white males (many of them factory workers) who comprise the single biggest demographic source of Trump’s support, domestic manufacturing CEOs might see in Trump a great source of hope for policies that favor their companies and industries.
6. He’s a proven pragmatist. Consider how Trump both has taken companies into bankruptcy court and has donated liberally to Democratic politicians—and yet has been able to mitigate political damage among Republicans even after having done so. This is a guy who knows how to make things work and get things done in the real world. Trump might even be someone who could break gridlock in Congress to accomplish things, while also brandishing the occasional executive order a la President Obama. Or, as Cush delicately put it last month in explaining his support for Trump to a business audience in Silicon Valley, he likes candidates “who have done things and created things and had to compromise.”