Donald Trump’s going to find that being a business tycoon isn’t the same as being president of the United States.
He faces at least four big, daunting differences:
▪ Getting things done quickly is harder.
▪ Businesses woo customers with some interest in the product. A government official can’t always pick and choose his target audience.
▪ Trump’s got to deal with a surly, demanding Congress, Democrats and skeptics in his own party.
▪ And perhaps most challenging, he’s at the mercy of an economy and international events that he often can’t control.
“There’s no book on being governor. There’s no book on being president,” said Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, a former healthcare executive.
Never has the head of a multinational corporation moved directly into the White House with no political experience.
I have to figure out how to please the customer who voted for me and please the entire electorate, half of whom more or less don’t vote for you.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., on how a businessman can be a successful elected official
McClatchy spoke to governors who worked in the corporate world, and people in the corporate world familiar with politics.
Trump does start with some advantages, they said. Corporate executives are decisive and know the value of delegating.
The president’s Cabinet is “similar to corporate division officers,” said Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“He knows he has to delegate,” said John Engler, former governor of Michigan who’s now president of the Business Roundtable, a group of executives of the nation’s top corporations.
That means making sure they carefully vet the people they pick, a process now underway. The Trump team understands “the idea of focusing on the right people for the right agencies,” said Gov. Doug Ducey, governor of Arizona. Before politics, Ducey was chief executive officer of Cold Stone Creamery.
But business and government are two different worlds, with these differences:
Trump will find a decidedly slower pace of decision-making and implementation. Congress has to approve funding, a process that can take months. Federal regulations often dictate how policy is implemented, another lengthy slog.
“It’s as different as taking a jet is to walking,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. He built and ran California-based Directed Electronics, which became the nation’s largest maker of vehicle anti-theft devices, before being elected to Congress.
It’s a lot different.
Charlie Crist, former Florida governor and now a congressman-elect, on how government differs from the business world
Trump’s also going to find selling his product and policies will take more than a few speeches or a clever marketing campaign.
While a businessman can ignore those who don’t want his product, said Charlie Crist, a former governor of Florida, a politician “has to figure out how to not only please the customer, but please the other part of the electorate.”
The key to a successful business, and political career, is that “You develop a reputation,” said Gov.-elect Phil Scott of Vermont, an owner of a construction firm.
And you show a certain humility. “As a business person, you have to make sure the business is running well,” said Crist, now a congressman-elect from Florida. “As a government official, you have to be a servant.”
Congress will be able to haul his managers in for questioning and second guessing in a very public way.
In business, a bad hire can be fired without much fanfare. A bad choice to lead a government agency will become the subject of widespread, often ugly, public scrutiny.
Remember, said Engler, “Half the people who come to work are trying to make you fail.”
Even if they prove to be efficient managers, agency heads will have to defend what they do in a very public fashion. Government’s executive branch has to go before legislatures and explain themselves constantly. It’s not an easy transition for executives used to being accountable to corporate boards or stockholders, which don’t get the same sort of attention as government officials.
“It took me awhile to adjust to this whole different form of governance,” said Bill Haslam, the governor of Tennessee, formerly president of Pilot Flying J, a chain of truck stops.
We’re used to saying the CEO said this, therefore it’s going to happen. It’s not how it works.
Bill Haslam, governor of Tennessee and a former corporate executive
Then there’s the matter of getting the Senate to go along. Republicans are expected to control 52 of the 100 seats next year, but it takes 60 to end debate on most matters. That means Trump often will have to convince at least eight Democrats to go along.
“With the U.S. Congress, half will cause you trouble, and then there’s your own party to deal with,” said James Pfiffner, who has written a dozen books on the U.S. presidency and American government.
“You think if you’re the president or you’re the governor and you say it, it happens. But that’s just not true,” said Haslam.
He’s at the mercy of large forces he can’t control.
President Ronald Reagan in 1981 saw his approval numbers soar, got a huge tax cut through Congress, and then saw his poll numbers plunge as the nation sank into a recession.
A business executive can cut costs, or production, and if savvy enough he can survive. And the public isn’t watching every move.
A president’s actions get far more scrutiny. “While the president does not control the economy,” said Josten, “he is expected to help it run smoothly.”
Then there’s the ultimate series of events beyond a president’s control: International affairs. Dealing with world leaders on treaty negotiations or during violent conflicts is a lot different than arranging for hotels and golf courses, and that could his greatest challenge. Already, he’s upset a close ally by lobbying to replace the British ambassador to the United States with a Trump ally.
“You get hit with a lot of unexpected stuff,” said Pfiffner. “Any president has to make sure not to get trapped into saying something unfortunate.”