But, He was Such a Successful Businessman…

Setting aside the legitimately debatable notion that Trump was successful in business, it should be becoming clear, for anyone who is being objective, that there are good reasons why electing someone with zero governmental experience is a bad idea.  Throw in not only inexperience but incompetence, ignorance, and immaturity and we get what we are currently witnessing in Washington.  Further, I hope that at least some Trump voters are beginning to see that many of us who were concerned about a Trump presidency were concerned not primarily for policy or ideological reasons, but for pure competence reasons.  (But, I am guessing, unfortunately, that a lot of Trump voters still don’t see it, because if they didn’t see it during the campaign, I am guessing the same blinders remain in place).

On the competence and governance note I would recommend David Brook’s column, The Trump Administration Talent Vacuum, which discusses both the lack of expertise as a result of the administration’s failure to fill key positions (and filling others with inexperienced persons) and the effects of growing scandals:

We have seen White Houses engulfed by scandal before. But we have never seen a White House implode before it had the time to staff up. The Nixon, Reagan and Clinton White Houses had hired quality teams by the time their scandals came. They could continue to function, sort of, even when engulfed.

The Trump administration, on the other hand, has hundreds of senior and midlevel positions to fill, and few people of quality or experience are going to want to take them.

Few people of any quality or experience are going to want to join a team that is already toxic. Nobody is going to want to become the next H. R. McMaster, a formerly respected figure who is now permanently tainted because he threw his lot in with Donald Trump. Nobody is going to want to join a self-cannibalizing piranha squad whose main activity is lawyering up.


Running a White House is insanely hard. It requires a few thousand extremely smart and savvy people who are willing to work crazy hours and strain their family lives because they fundamentally believe in the mission and because they truly admire the president.


The organizational culture is about to get worse. People who have served in administrations under investigation speak eloquently about how miserable it is. You never know which of your friends is about to rat you out. No personal communication is really secure. You never know which of your colleagues is going to break ranks and write the tell-all memoir, and you think that maybe it should be you.

Emphases mine.

And, this is correct:

Congressional Republicans seem to think they can carry on and legislate despite the scandal, but since 1933 we have no record of significant legislation without strong presidential leadership. Members of this Congress are not going to be judged by where they set the corporate tax rate. They will be defined by where they stood on Donald Trump’s threat to civic integrity. That issue is bound to overshadow all else.

On the competence side of things, I have to admit that this administration has been, in many ways, worse than I expected (and I expected a historically incompetent administration).

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Pch101 says:

    Trump’s lack of experience is less of an issue than are his lack of smarts and his apparent inability to delegate responsibility to competent people.

    I presume that his business experience is actually a detriment because he became accustomed to surrounding himself with sycophants and using NDAs to silence many of his potential critics. His instincts were built on those foundations, and those don’t work now that he is under such scrutiny in a political position.

    I’m sure that there are some people who could turn business experience into an advantage. Trump just isn’t one of them.

  2. Tony W says:


    I’m sure that there are some people who could turn business experience into an advantage. Trump just isn’t one of them.

    As has been brought on on this board before, any CEO who has to report to a board of directors, for example, would be far more qualified for the Presidency.

    When you run a sole-proprietorship, however, which is essentially what Trump’s business boils down to, you are the boss and nobody can question your decisions or your authority.

    That becomes deeply engrained. Clearly.

  3. CSK says:

    It becomes even worse when you consider the fact that in Trump’s eyes, the only necessary qualification is blind, unswerving loyalty to Trump: not knowledge, not experience, not skill, not intelligence, not expertise. Just slobbering fealty to The Big Man.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I think Chaffetz and his well developed sense of self-preservation have the right idea.

  5. Kylopod says:

    While I agree that business success isn’t a qualification for the presidency, it should be kept in mind that Donald Trump isn’t a good test case for that question, since he is not, in fact, a very good businessman. If there’s ever, say, a President Bill Gates or President Warren Buffett, then we can have that discussion.

  6. @Kylopod: Nonetheless, his supporters were pretty vociferous about how his business acumen was a huge plus.

  7. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    That, I’m sure, was because they unquestioningly bought his con. I doubt if the average Trump supporter–you know, “the poorly educated” he loves so much–would have the vaguest idea of what constitutes a successful big business, much less any notion of how to create and run one.

  8. al-Alameda says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    @Kylopod: Nonetheless, his supporters were pretty vociferous about how his business acumen was a huge plus.

    Trump’s skills are in sales and marketing, and he’s relentless and tenacious in pursuit of whatever he’s marketing and selling.

    He’s convinced a lot of people that the Trump Brand is one of luxury and quality – and never mind the 5 business bankruptcies, and the cheesy rich trash gold lettering on his buildings.

  9. rachel says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Oh, yeah. That weasel deciding it’s time to flee the henhouse is a very bad omen for Trump. Chaffetz’s main principal has always been to look out for himself, and he applies himself to that end devoutly.

  10. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Trump voters thought he was a great businessman because he played one on television. They think The Apprentice was some kind of documentary. That’s pretty much the sum total of their knowledge of Trump’s business career.

    Stephen, I really think the main emotion governing Trump voters is their longing for a story, a narrative that fits their longing for a fairer (in their view) world. And Trump fit that narrative because he didn’t act like a regular politician – who would never have gone out on the limbs Trump did and raised expectations so high. It’s that narrative that’s real – everything else is fake.

    It’s like we’re all in some kind of huge reality tv show with a scripted happy ending. It’s frighteningly delusional.

  11. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    His supporters began with their fondness of his racism and/or alleged war against the “Deep State”, then came up with alleged justifications to rationalize their support.

    I know a guy who falls into the latter camp. (He’s a nice enough guy who isn’t a bigot, but he’s also obviously a head case who has read a few too many sovereign citizen and conspiracy websites.) That particular guy thinks that Trump is some kind of genius who’s playing an elevated game. Of course, he’s projecting — Trump is saying what he wants to hear, therefore Trump is brilliant. This is the first time that a president has made him feel like he’s some kind of insider, so he continues to defend Trump, no matter what.

  12. Jen says:

    I agree with this, and stand by the assessment that the presidency is not an entry-level job.

    There are so many reasons, both personal and professional, that Trump as a businessman was going to have a tough time of things. He is almost uniquely unsuited for the job. An abbreviated list:

    – His personality, which requires he be the center of attention.
    – His demand for personal loyalty combined with his inability to receive criticism
    – His background in real estate and casinos, two businesses that operate on a different set of rules than governing
    – His craving for approval
    – His lack of an attention span, and general disinterest in learning
    – His family-run business, which as pointed out above is different than a CEO responsible to a board

    I could go on and on but won’t. So many things that he was used to in business just don’t cut it in government, and he won’t listen to anyone who knows better.

    And this will all get worse as no one with any sense of self-preservation will want to join this administration now.

  13. MarkedMan says:


    If there’s ever, say, a President Bill Gates or President Warren Buffett, then we can have that discussion.

    Ross Perot probably came closest to this. I wouldn’t call him a “good” businessman but he was certainly a successful one. But it was obvious he had no real understanding of what a President actually does. He had this schtick about how he would get all the congressional leaders together in a room and they wouldn’t be allowed to leave until they had come to a budget agreement. Being an extremely autocratic CEO he thought he would have the same powers as President. I would love to have seen him try to keep Tip O’Neill in a meeting against his will. But it also shows an ignorance about how decisions are made in government. There are a few Reps and Senators that know the ins and outs of everything and can make a deal without talking to their staff, but they are few and far between.

    FWIW, here’s the type of business Perot ran: In the early 90’s a neighbor of mine worked for EDS in New Orleans on a big, big project with a couple of hundred programmers. Two years of 70-80 hour weeks, no days off, incredibly abuse from management, just a hugely toxic environment. He was a direct employee, so no overtime. He came seriously close to a complete nervous breakdown. When the project was delivered, they got a note to come in for a special meeting. I know he was hoping for a big bonus or at least some kind of party or celebration. Instead it was a group firing. Project was done and they didn’t need them any more.

  14. Andre Kenji says:

    Trump is not a businessman, he is a celebrity. Most of this property(Including all properties overseas) are simply licensing from his name. He is a businessman in the same sense that Kim Kardashian is one.

  15. All,

    The main point of the post really isn’t Trump’s business skills…

  16. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But don’t they, or the lack thereof, directly relate to his incompetence?

  17. Andre Kenji says:

    Michael Bloomberg is a real businessman, and he managed to use part of his business skills as Mayor of New York City. The new mayor of São Paulo in incredibly similar to Trump: a guy that was born rich that sees himself as a businessman(He also presented the local version of “The Apprentice”). He also has temper tantrums, he also likes to micromanage and he also like to take decisions that goes against what specialists and studies say(Like increasing speed limits on a dangerous highway). Day to the day things like city cleaning are not getting better.

    São Paulo and New York have similar population and it’s challenges are not that different , on the other hand, it’s easy to see who is the better suited for the job.

    A celebrity that sees himself as a businessman is a even crappier politician than your average businessman.

  18. bookdragon says:

    He was never a successful businessman. The number of bankruptcies alone should have told people that. He is a a good scam artist though. If he hadn’t been born rich, he’d probably be doing well in ‘multi-level marketing’ or as a used car dealer.

    But the scandals sink the idea of getting things together even if he has a ‘road to Damacus’ experience and realizes he needs to change completely. Right now, being associated with him is so toxic the joke from last April needs only a slight update:

    How do you explain this gap in your resume?

    “I was in jail.”

    Okay. Sure you weren’t working for Trump’s campaign administration?

    “Swear to God. Jail.”

  19. Jen says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:Sure, but Brooks’ piece that is excerpted and linked to does point out a likely outcome that does dance around the edges of business ability:

    As current staff leaves or gets pushed out, look for Trump to try to fill the jobs with business colleagues who also have no experience in government.

    The point of the article isn’t about his business skills, but it is about how business skills don’t equate to success in the public sector. And the fact that he was a lousy businessman who has surrounded himself with yes-sir types might end up making this situation a whole lot worse.

    On electing someone with zero governmental experience–we have only ourselves to blame for creating this atmosphere. Repeatedly, and far more on the Republican side than the Democratic one, we have drilled into the public how horrible government is. That every public servant is an incompetent who couldn’t survive in a “real” job. That every agency is rife with waste and fraud and abuse.

    Government service is necessary, as is government. We can’t spend decades saying it’s the problem and then act surprised when people decide to go the route of choosing a political neophyte as president. It’s high time that both parties–but especially Republicans–start saying publicly that government is needed and that serving the public good deserves respect. It is not contradictory to say that government is good, but could be more efficient.

  20. Franklin says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Chaffetz may have a sense of self-preservation, but that’s about his only mildly redeeming quality. For a guy who doubts Comey’s memo even exists, I hold out little hope.

  21. Anonne says:

    This article explains it all, concisely:


    Trump is the enemy of their enemies. That logic is what keeps him there, and they are more loyal than smart.

    Over the past 50 years, overarching and underlying conflicts about morality, family, autonomy, religious conviction, fairness and even patriotism have been forced into two relatively weak vessels, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The political system is not equipped to resolve these social and cultural conflicts, which produce a gamut of emotions, often outside our conscious awareness. Threatening issues — conflicts over race, immigration, sexuality and many other questions that cut to the core of how we see ourselves and the people around us — cannot be contained in ordinary political speech, even as these issues dominate our political decision-making.

    It is Trump’s willingness to violate the boundaries of conventional discourse that has granted him immunity to mainstream criticism. Pretty much everything he does that goes overboard helps him. He is given a free hand by those who feel in their gut that he is fighting their fight — that he is their leader and their defender. As the enemy of their enemies, President Trump is their friend.

    The businessman thing is just a side angle. Many of these people know about the bankruptcies and don’t care, because he survived and is still insanely rich. The important thing is that while he’s a classless thug, he’s their classless thug.

  22. Jen says:

    @Franklin: I honestly don’t understand that line Chaffetz has decided to take. Comey has a long history of this type of documentation, going back to that hospital bedside incident with Ashcroft. Why on earth would he pull out that “if they even exist” line, if there’s a long history of exactly that type of record-keeping? It’s really a very weird thing to say.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    He’s not a businessman, he’s a con-man, a hustler and a game show host. Had he just dumped daddy’s money into a mutual fund and done nothing he’d be richer today than he is. And he wouldn’t have had to finance his illusory empire with laundered Russian mob money.

  24. Gustopher says:

    Much as Trump’s amazing business skills underperformed just sticking his inheritance in an index fund, Trump’s presidency under performs just shutting up and coasting. He’s a Republican who has paralyzed the Republican agenda when they control all branches of government.*

    Wally from Dilbert could do a better job. Show up, look busy, leave for the day.

    (* admittedly, with the current Republican agenda, he might outperform a less self destructive President that actually implements that agenda — they want to reproduce the Kansas miracle across the country)

  25. DrDaveT says:


    Ross Perot probably came closest to this.

    In terms of getting elected, yes. In terms of actually serving, I’d nominate David Packard. After being an immensely successful businessman, he went on to be one of the most effective Secretaries of Defense that we’ve ever had. He had (or at least developed) an extremely keen sense of the important differences between running a for-profit business and running a for-the-people country, and he managed to simultaneously implement major reforms drawn from his business experience and major reforms totally unlike the way things were done at H-P or any other private firm.

  26. Stormy Dragon says:


    Much as Trump’s amazing business skills underperformed just sticking his inheritance in an index fund

    Is this the right criteria for judging a business? I bet if you look at most small businesses, they would under perform the S&P 500. That doesn’t mean the person running the dry cleaner down the street, the local diner, etc. are failures as business people.

  27. MarkedMan says:


    Why on earth would he pull out that “if they even exist” line

    I’ve been wondering this myself. The best I can come up with is that he felt he needed to ask for them, knew this would get him in trouble with the Trump Republicans, and so tried to make it sound like he was going after Comey rather than Trump.

  28. bookdragon says:

    @Jen: +100 and AMEN

  29. Stormy Dragon says:

    Trump apparently believe that each person’s body stores a finite amount of energy when born and that you die when it runs out. Exercise is a plot to kill people by tricking them into wasting their energy supply:

    Donald Trump has a very strange theory about exercise

  30. Janis Gore says:

    @Jen: You’re overthinking. It’s all part of the “fake news” narrative. Imprinting.

  31. Yank says:

    He’s convinced a lot of people that the Trump Brand is one of luxury and quality – and never mind the 5 business bankruptcies, and the cheesy rich trash gold lettering on his buildings.

    Honestly, this might be his greatest feat.