A Helpful Observation about Trump and Big Capital

Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

I was reading a piece in Axios this morning that happened not only to be smart but also erudite. Surprise! When I looked at the byline: Felix Salmon. Okay, not a surprise. Axios actually publishes a lot of good stuff outside its narrowly political content. There’s good stuff there too. But on politics it’s mostly narrowly captive to DC conventional wisdom and conceits. But to the good Felix Salmon piece: he compares billionaire and business giving to and support of Trump to Pascal’s Wager: It makes sense to believe in God because if God exists you’ll be glad you did and if he doesn’t exist it won’t matter.

Salmon makes the point that high-profile business leaders have a big incentive to support Trump even if they want him to lose or at least think Biden would be a better President or better for the economy. If Trump wins your personal support could end up mattering a lot to your business or your company and vice versa. If Biden wins, he’s not going to try to retaliate against you for supporting Trump. Not how the Biden folks operate. This is a bit far fetched but I could even see how you might have a fiduciary responsibility to support Trump for just the same reason. I know it’s a bit more complicated than that. But the effect on your bottom line could be very, very real.

AT&T’s ultimately failed acquisition of Time Warner probably should have drawn a lot of antitrust scrutiny on the merits. But it never would have under Trump if he didn’t bear a grudge against CNN. It’s a big deal. And there were many other examples during his presidency.

The whole comment and analogy are actually a good window into just how what we might call electoral authoritarianism works. It is corrupt both in the civic sense and the venal sense. With Trump specifically, it’s tied to the acquisition and hold on power but also … let’s be honest, he wants a cut. He wants the money. It’s not just about punishing and rewarding.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not portraying the high-profile billionaires as victims. Most of them probably just want Trump to win and they want the goodies he can give them. Beyond billionaire-friendly policies, there’s probably a pretty big appeal of what amounts to one-stop shopping. Why do I need to pay my lobbyists when it all comes down to literally my personal relationship with Trump?

I’ve mentioned many times that journalism’s DC ad and sponsorship business turns on corporate America’s ability to message to the people who make the policy and run the government. It’s really part of corporate America’s lobbying budget, quite literally. Back in 2017, Trump’s arrival threw everything in that world into upheaval. Many conversations were no longer “how many readers do you have on Capitol Hill?” but “do any of these eleven Trump deputies read your site?” “Does Trump read your site?” Wasn’t a great moment for us. But that’s one-stop shopping if you’re a big hedge funder or the CEO of a bank.

In any case, it’s a good observation. In addition to the allure of tax cuts and low regulation and favors, business and tycoons have other rational reasons for supporting Trump. In terms of getting a friendly ear and not having the most powerful person in the world on your case, it’s just a good bet. There’s literally no downside. Biden’s team won’t punish you for it. Trump’s will.

Latest Editors' Blog
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: