Clinton Highlights Billionaires' Support As A Way To Try To Undermine Trump | KERA News

Clinton Highlights Billionaires' Support As A Way To Try To Undermine Trump

Aug 3, 2016
Originally published on August 5, 2016 8:10 am

Republican Donald Trump has built his presidential campaign around the idea that he is an enormously successful billionaire with a long track record of making money — and that given the chance he can use his business smarts to revive the American economy.

Tech entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wants people to know he's not so impressed.

"I can tell you as an entrepreneur and investor with absolute certainty that companies and jobs, they won't be created by terrifying people," Cuban said at a Clinton rally in Pittsburgh last week. "No, Donald Trump, they'll be created by inspiring people like Hillary Clinton does."

Trump may be one of the world's best-known members of the club of the super-rich, but some of his fellow billionaires have been turning on him. Cuban, for example, used some choice — even vulgar — language to describe his disdain for Trump. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg blasted him last week at the Democratic National Convention. Legendary investor Warren Buffett, at an event with Clinton, questioned if Trump had any "decency."

And the latest came from Hewlett-Packard executive Meg Whitman, a longtime Republican who made a fortune as the co-founder of eBay, who said she will be supporting Clinton.

"To vote Republican out of party loyalty would be to endorse a candidacy that I believe has exploited anger, grievance, xenophobia and racial division," Whitman said in a statement released Wednesday. "Donald Trump's demagoguery has undermined the fabric of our national character."

She went on: "Trump's reckless and uninformed positions on critical issues --from immigration to our economy to foreign policy — have made it abundantly clear that he lacks both the depth and sound judgment required as president. Trump's unsteady hand would endanger our prosperity and national security. His authoritarian character could threaten much more."

The Clinton campaign has seized on comments like that to undermine Trump's image as a business wizard and, perhaps, to get under his skin a little. The support of billionaires, however, could also have the affect of alienating more liberal voters, like those who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary. It's a group Clinton also needs on board in the fall election. Still, the campaign hopes having high-profile business supporters can peel off disaffected independents and some Republicans.

"Most of us who have our names on the door know that we're only as good as our word," said Bloomberg, a former Republican, at last week's DNC. "But not Donald Trump. Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies, thousands of lawsuits, angry shareholders, and contractors who feel cheated, and disillusioned customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he's run his business. God help us."

Trump has his own billionaire supporters as well, such as Bakken oil developer Harold Hamm and investor Carl Icahn, but they lack the star power of Cuban, Bloomberg, Whitman and Buffett.

On Monday, Clinton sat on an Omaha, Neb., stage behind Buffett, grinning widely as he attacked Trump for not releasing his tax returns. "How many of you would be afraid to have your tax return made public?" Buffett asked the cheering crowd. "You're only afraid if you've got something to be afraid about."

Buffett even offered a kind of deal, saying he'd release his tax returns if Trump did.

For the Clinton campaign, appearances by figures such as Buffett and Cuban can subtly help erode Trump's reputation for wealth and success, Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said.

"The kind of endorsements from Cuban and Warren Buffett and Mike Bloomberg and other like that are ways of saying, 'Donald Trump is not the businessman he says, 'cause if he was, real businessmen would be endorsing him,' " Sheinkopf said.

It's also a way of scaring off potential donors, at a time when Trump appeared to be starting to finally gain some ground in fundraising, though major contributors have been holding back.

"If the Koch brothers have already said in public that they're not necessarily going to do a lot for Trump, the Republican businessmen, Chamber of Commerce types, are going to look at the names Buffett, Cuban, Bloomberg and others and say, 'Wait a minute, what am I investing my money in?' " Sheinkopf said.

For Clinton, who has battled the perception that she is too close to Wall Street and has been criticized for her past support of trade agreements, the strategy is not without some risk, said former GOP Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia.

As the candidacies of Trump and Sanders have made clear, this is a change election, when many voters are tired of the status quo. While Trump campaigns as a populist, Clinton increasingly seems like the candidate of the establishment, and appearing alongside the super-wealthy could hurt her.

"In an election where people think the country's going in the wrong direction," Davis said, "marching out the wealthiest of the wealthy, I don't think that's how you do the message."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Hillary Clinton was in the battleground state of Colorado today. She visited a Thai company in Denver and criticized Donald Trump for making some of his clothing in other countries.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: If he wants to make America great again, he should start by making things in America.

MCEVERS: Clinton has been lashing out at Trump's business credentials in other ways, too, including using billionaire supporters to undermine his image as a successful dealmaker.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, is the latest on the list. The big-name Republican issued a blistering statement today. She calls Trump a demagogue with reckless and uninformed views and says she'll support Clinton. NPR's Jim Zarroli says the strategy of cozying up to billionaire buddies is not without risk.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Donald Trump has his billionaire friends, too, people like oil magnate Harold Hamm and investor Carl Icahn. But for sheer star power, no one could top the man who appeared onstage with Clinton this week. Warren Buffett mocked Trump for refusing to release his tax returns.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN BUFFETT: How many of you would be afraid to have your tax return made public?

(LAUGHTER)

BUFFETT: You're only afraid if you've got something to be afraid about (laughter).

(CHEERING)

ZARROLI: As Buffett talked, Clinton sat behind him, beaming. And when she spoke, she lavished praise upon him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: I call him my friend. He is an American original. I am honored to have his support.

ZARROLI: Buffett has endorsed Democrats before, including President Obama. But the Clinton campaign has used him and other billionaires in a new way - to raise doubts about Trump's business record. A few days earlier, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban appeared at a Clinton rally in Pittsburgh where he scoffed at the idea that Trump knows how to revive the economy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK CUBAN: I can tell you as an entrepreneur, as an investor, with absolute certainty that companies and jobs - they won't be created by terrifying people. No, Donald Trump, they'll be created by inspiring people like Hillary Clinton does.

(APPLAUSE)

ZARROLI: And Cuban was echoing a theme voiced by mega-billionaire and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg at the Democratic convention, who ridiculed Trump's business career. You may think Trump is rich, the campaign seemed to say, but here's a much richer guy, and he isn't so impressed with him. Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf...

HANK SHEINKOPF: The kind of endorsements from Cuban and Warren Buffett and Mike Bloomberg and others like that are ways of saying Donald Trump is not the businessman he says because if he was, real businessmen would be endorsing him.

ZARROLI: Sheinkopf says the support of the super-rich also scares off potential Republican donors, especially at a time when Trump is struggling to raise money.

SHEINKOPF: If the Koch brothers have already said in public that they're not necessarily going to do a lot for Trump, Republican businesspeople and Chamber of Commerce types are going to look at names like Buffett, Cuban, Bloomberg and others and say, wait a second; what am I investing my money in?

ZARROLI: But Hillary Clinton is a candidate who has had to battle the perception that she's too close to Wall Street, and her past support for trade agreements such as NAFTA has been used against her. Former Republican Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia says appearing alongside billionaires could backfire against her. Davis says this is a change election. The fact that Trump and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders went so much further than anyone expected is evidence of that.

TOM DAVIS: In an election where people think the country's going in the wrong direction, marching out the wealthiest of the wealthy, I don't think that's how you do the message.

ZARROLI: The Buffets and Bloombergs of the world can help undermine Trump's public image as a business wizard, but they are also establishment figures whose support can mark Clinton as a candidate of the status quo. The question is whether that's what voters are looking for. Jim Zarroli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.