Business and government. An interesting mix. Most of our founding fathers—with the notable exception of the bastard orphan who inspired the greatest musical of all time—wanted to keep them apart. As a country grows, that noble objective becomes harder to uphold in its purest sense, though it doesn’t stop many doctrinaire observers from the urge to fight for it.
What about a businessman atop the government? Well, it’s not like we haven’t tried it before. George Washington was a successful farmer, though if you visit Mount Vernon, you can’t avoid the sense that Martha really ran the operation. She kind of had to, since George was trying to start a country.
Herbert Hoover was one of the most talented and accomplished people ever to become president. A self-made engineer, a member of the first graduating class of Stanford, a humanitarian who helped feed those left starving in the wake of the Great War. Hoover was a brilliant businessman, but he made a lousy (though admittedly unlucky with his timing) president. Ironically, one of his problems was that he didn’t follow through aggressively enough with some of the more active ideas he had for addressing the Depression. FDR took the ball and ran with it.
Where does Donald Trump stack up in accomplishment, ability and temperament with Washington and Hoover? I doubt his biggest supporter would say the comparison is favorable to The Donald. The best many can say for him is that he seems to have succeeded in lowering expectations for himself going into tonight’s debate. Maybe that means he should work in investor relations for a big public company. It’s noteworthy that none of the country’s top CEO’s is supporting him, and no, I’m not giving credit for Carl Icahn, nor do I think Icahn’s greenmailing experience qualifies him for international trade negotiations.
That said, the low bar Trump has achieved with the media appears to be scaring the market. He’s clever enough, if he chooses, to capitalize on that in the debate, regardless of his abject lack of relevant knowledge or overall qualification. It’s very likely that Trump doesn’t really want to win the presidency—his best outcome is probably a narrow loss, followed by all kinds of new opportunities to sell his name. But a narrow loss probably means he needs a good, stable performance tonight, and he knows it. The market knows he knows it. That’s why, most likely, it’s nervous this morning.
Just remember—if Herbert Hoover wasn’t able to be a good president, what chance does Donald Trump have?
(This is the cover letter for the subscription-based weekly Hillside's Hybrid Vigor newsletter. For a complete copy, please contact John Anderson at + 1 (646) 712-9289 x 107).