The silence, so deafening during the intense presidential campaign, is over for Michigan business.
Quietly, executives are beginning to reckon with a Donald Trump presidency many thought unlikely before the wee hours of Wednesday. They don’t have much choice: unlike politics, business must contend with the world as it is, not as its leaders and their people may want it to be.
The president-elect sounded some of the right pro-business notes during the bruising campaign, notwithstanding his cheap shots against Ford Motor Co. Now it’s real: What will a Trump administration mean for the economy and tax policy, regulations and growth, consumer confidence and auto sales?
Will the billionaire developer-turned-politician, twinned with a Republican-controlled Congress, reverse the anti-business drift and strong bias for central control of the eight years? Investors seem to think so, judging by upside moves in key equity markets.
Caution might be a wiser course. Trump’s tendency for simplistic solutions to complex issues are not so easily executed in the welter of Washington — even if his party will control the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time since the mid-1920s.
“Bringing jobs back,” one of his familiar riffs, is not easily done. The risk is that Trump made big promises across the industrial Midwest to get the big job. Delivering is another question altogether. Still, possibilities mount.
Antipathy for Obamacare elicits promises to “repeal and replace” it next year, and hospital stocks rally. Speculation that Republicans are targeting the Dodd-Frank financial reform for repeal causes bank stocks to soar. Lobbying by Detroit’s automakers to roll back federal fuel-economy rules buoys battered shares.
The headline from the Wall Street Journal, pushed just after the market’s 4 p.m. close, said it best: “Dow industrials ride Trump enthusiasm to another winning day and a record, just above 18,800.” That’s far from the cataclysm predicted should Trump upset Clinton, the stable, Wall Street-friendly Democrat.
“Our stock price has gone up about $12 or $13 a share,” said Rick Devore, regional president of PNC Bank. “I’m not sure of these reactions. The regulatory environment is not going away.”
No, it isn’t. But the prospect of regulatory rationalization that could help boost growth and lower the cost of doing business is a sharp change from the more-of-the-same economic policies — and higher taxes — Clinton promised.
“Business will typically work with whoever is elected, Republican or Democrat,” Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, said in an interview Thursday at the group’s Michigan CEO Summit. “Because it’s in business’ interest that the government work.”
The chaos predicted during the debates — whether Trump would “accept” the results of an election — did not happen. He won. Clinton conceded the next day with class and grace. President Barack Obama echoed her sentiment, and Trump promised to be president for all Americans.
Proof will be in what he does, not what he says. Who he appoints to his cabinet and key administration jobs; how his team sets priorities with Republican congressional leaders; how those proposed moves would affect growth, business investment and job creation.
Even the United Auto Workers, its leaders staunchly Democratic, gets this. They also understand the fact that Trump campaigned on trade issues that made him sound more like the Democrat he was until he decided to become a Republican and run for president.
“I think his position on trade is right on,” UAW President Dennis Williams said during a roundtable discussion at Solidarity House. “I’m prepared to sit down with president-elect Trump anytime he wants.”
Now this is something business (and labor) in this part of the country gets: business and its ties to labor values pragmatism over ideology, measurable results over action that can signify very little. The big question is whether Team Trump’s actions will choose pragmatism over ideology.
A caution: Michigan is living with unified Republican government, to borrow the term preferred by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. First, government unified around a single party doesn’t always prove to be so unified, especially if the chief executive is not willing to wield power decisively.
And, second, unilaterally ramming legislation through Congress carries a price that can prove very expensive over time. Just ask President Obama, whose party keeps paying at the ballot box for passing the Affordable Care Act without a single Republican vote.
“There’s no question there was trepidation before,” said Chip McClure, managing partner of Michigan Capital Partners LLC. Now “there is this ability to really accomplish a lot.”
Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHowes_TDN, listen to his Saturday podcasts, or catch him 3 and 10 p.m. Thursdays on Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” 91.7 FM.