Race for the White House

The Specter of Donald Trump Is Haunting Davos

Donald Trump Hits Ted Cruz, Says 'Goldman Sachs Owns Him'
  • Concerns over protectionism and U.S. reputation bubble up
  • Ex-White House advisor still thinks Trump will be nominee

If Donald Trump as president of the United States is the ghost that’s stalking Davos, many among the global elite hope he’ll be banished by spring. Others see that as wishful thinking.

“I think the nominees will be Donald Trump for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton” for the Democrats, Donald Baer, a former White House adviser under President Bill Clinton, said at a panel co-hosted by Bloomberg and WPP Plc. “The next year will be a very uncertain, chaotic period.”

Eric Cantor, left, Donald Baer, center, and Martin Sorrell speak at Davos.
Eric Cantor, left, Donald Baer, center, and Martin Sorrell speak at Davos.
Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

The prospect of Trump in the White House is ratcheting up anxiety among the 2,500 business and political leaders gathered at the Swiss ski resort for the annual World Economic Forum. With less than two weeks before voting in primaries gets under way and Trump in the Republican Party lead, those who fear a rise in protectionism and economic mismanagement are speaking out against the billionaire property developer.

“Unfortunately I do think that if there were to be a Trump administration the casualty would likely be trade,” said Eric Cantor, a former Republican House Majority Leader and now vice chairman of Moelis & Company. “That’s a very serious prospect for the world.”

‘Disaster’

Cantor said he doesn’t think Trump will make it through the primaries, a common theme among Davos attendees who nevertheless are still talking about him. Trump’s positions --like a “temporary” ban on Muslims entering the country and the building of a wall on the Mexican border -- are earning him opprobrium in the mountain resort.

He has also railed at the loss of U.S. jobs to overseas competitors, and on Tuesday said that as president he would “get Apple to start building their damn computers and things” in the U.S., instead of China. A Trump administration would be a “disaster,” according to Beth Brooke-Marciniak, global vice chair of public policy at Ernst & Young LLP and a former adviser to the U.S. Treasury in the Clinton administration.

“The globe needs the U.S. to be strong,” she said. “The U.S. is still the horse that’s pulling the cart, and more so now with the capital outflows from emerging markets.”

Populist Wave

The presidential race shows that the U.S. is not immune to the wave of populism sweeping the globe. In the U.S. case, the economy has recovered faster than other developed nations from the global slump of 2008 and 2009, and yet wages haven’t kept pace with a rebound in corporate profits. That’s helping candidates like Trump and Bernie Sanders who say the system is rigged against average Americans.

While Trump’s specter looms large, not many assume he’ll actually make it to the White House.

“I am amazed at Davos about how many people are taking Trump as seriously as they are,” said Martin Sorrell, WPP’s chief executive. “I think it doesn’t matter who the Republicans put up, I think Hillary will win.”

Sorrell said he thinks the Republican nomination will go either to Trump or to Texas Senator Ted Cruz. On Wednesday, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin endorsed Trump, lending the support of a Tea Party favorite. Still, that’s not a constituency with many members in Davos.

“If you bother to read some of the serious analysis of Trump’s support, you realize that it’s a very fragile thing and highly unlikely to deliver what he needs in the crucial first phase of the primaries,” said Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch professor of history at
Harvard University. “By the time we get to March-April, it’s all over. I think there’s going to be a wonderful catharsis, I’m really looking forward to it: Trump’s humiliation. Bring it on.”

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