Wall Street freaks out about 2020

Wall Street freaks out about 2020


Many executives are pining for a centrist candidate like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but realize the eventual Democratic nominee may well veer further left. | Allison Joyce/Getty Images

2020 Elections

Many of the nation’s top bankers want Trump gone, but they’re growing anxious about some Democratic presidential contenders.

NEW YORK — Top Wall Street executives would love to be rid of President Donald Trump. But they are getting panicked about the prospect of an ultraliberal Democratic nominee bent on raising taxes and slapping regulations on their firms.
The result is a kind of nervous paralysis of executives pining for a centrist nominee like Michael Bloomberg while realizing such an outcome is unlikely from a party veering sharply to the left.Story Continued Below

Early support from deep-pocketed financial executives could give Democrats seeking to break out of the pack an important fundraising boost. But any association with bankers also opens presidential hopefuls to sharp attacks from an ascendant left.
And it’s left senior executives on Wall Street flailing over what to do.
“I’m a socially liberal, fiscally conservative centrist who would love to vote for a rational Democrat and get Trump out of the White House,” said the CEO of one of the nation’s largest banks, who, like a dozen other executives interviewed for this story, declined to be identified by name for fear of angering a volatile president. “Personally, I’d love to see Bloomberg run and get the nomination. I’ve just never thought he could get the nomination the way the primary process works.” Across Wall Street and more in executive suites across the nation, corporate titans are trying to figure out how to navigate the 2020 presidential election. While some executives remain supportive of Trump — especially in industries like energy given the president’s approach to climate change — many recoil at his chaotic approach to governance and harsh approach to trade and immigration.
On Wall Street, executives love Trump’s tax cuts and soft-touch regulatory posture. But as the nation comes off the longest shutdown in American history amid warnings of an impending economic slowdown, there is also a clear preference for a change to more predictable leadership.
While just one slice of a complex corporate world, Wall Street has often played a pivotal role in presidential elections.
The industry backed then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, viewing him as more savvy about the depths of the financial crisis than Sen. John McCain, the GOP nominee. Bankers swung back toward Republicans in 2012 when private-equity executive Mitt Romney became the standard-bearer. But the financial support could not overcome — and perhaps added to — Romney’s image as a plutocrat with fancy houses and a rotating garage.
In 2016, Wall Street campaign cash and paid speeches to big banks became a serious headache for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, helping open her to a brutal primary battle with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who made those banker ties a central issue. Now, several Democrats are trying to figure out if they can scoop up Wall Street money without significant blowback.
After mentioning Bloomberg, Wall Street executives who want Trump out list a consistent roster of appealing nominees that includes former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kamala Harris of California. Others meriting mention: former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, though fewally know his positions.
Bankers’ biggest fear: The nomination goes to an anti-Wall Street crusader like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Sanders. “It can’t be Warren and it can’t be Sanders,” said the CEO of another giant bank. “It has to be someone centrist and someone who can win.”
Robert Wolf, an investment banker, founder of 32 Advisors and former adviser and fundraiser for Obama, echoed that sentiment but suggested it was too soon to declare anyone unelectable.
“We just haven’t seen this many candidates running in our party. The Republicans went through that, but we haven’t,” he said. “There is a lot of excitement about where the party is going, and we will all have friends running, and it’s hard to decide who to support. Our party likes the aspirational, exciting candidate, but we also have to find someone who can do well in the swing states.”For Democratic candidates, seeking Wall Street support in the 2020 race will be tricky. The allure of cash to report on initial fundraising filings remains strong. Booker, Harris and Gillibrand have all taken meetings or made calls to top Democrats on Wall Street gauging potential financial support.
But news reports of such meetings often draw swift social media backlash from progressives who don’t want the 2020 nominee to have anything to do with Wall Street “fat cats“ and view higher taxes on the wealthy and stronger banking regulations as sacrosanct positions for any potential nominee to hold.
After CNBC reported earlier this month on Gillibrand making calls to bankers to gauge potential support for a 2020 bid, the senator tweeted a list of her progressive credentials on the banking industry including support for a financial transactions tax, reinstating a wall between retail and investment banking and opposing the bank bailouts of 2008.
In several interviews, Wall Street executives cited these positions as reasons they were skeptical of Gillibrand as a candidate and unlikely to support her unless she catches fire and emerges from the field. “It will be an interesting test to see if people actually step up and support her,” one senior executive at a large bank said. “There is not a lot of trust there.”
But Gillibrand does have Wall Street backers who view her as pragmatic, a centrist and preferable to Warren or Sanders.
“She understands Wall Street, but she is not owned by Wall Street,” said Larry Rand, a Wall Street veteran and visiting professor of economics at Brown University. “Wall Street likes her because she is a pragmatist, not an ideologue, and of the announced candidates so far she is the most electable.”
A person close to Gillibrand noted the senator’s strong support for banking regulation and said any meetings with people at financial firms should not indicate a willingness to change positions on anything.
Overall in 2020, financial support from Wall Street and corporate America is likely to be somewhat less important. Democratic candidates are mostly swearing off any donations from corporate political action committees and are committed to raising small dollar amounts from grassroots donors, mostly online. Warren has urged all candidates to swear off support from any outside PACs and also criticized anyone who self-funds, a clear shot at Bloomberg.
Warren and Sanders both have formidable digital fundraising operations, as do Gillibrand and Harris. O’Rourke broke fundraising records last year in his unsuccessful Texas Senate run, drawing in $80 million. But the allure of wealthy donors who can write the maximum $2,700 checks to candidates — and billionaires who can fund outside super PACs — will remain, especially given the competition for small dollar online donations and the pressure to put up solid fundraising numbers in early reporting periods to show momentum.
“People are still calling and showing up. They just don’t want to be seen doing it,” a senior Wall Street executive who has worked in Democratic politics said.
Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic mayor of South Bend, Ind., who just entered the presidential race running at least in part as a voice of fiscal prudence, said in an interview that he would not shy away from seeking Wall Street cash. “But I’m not sure they would be too wild about me anyway,” he said, noting that he too is focused on small dollar, grassroots donors.
While Bloomberg represents something of the platonic ideal on Wall Street — fiscally responsible while strong on climate change and gun policy and not in need of cash — Biden represents something of a wild card.
The former vice president does not have deep relationships across Wall Street, but he’s viewed favorably as a candidate who could win and would take a somewhat more moderate approach on taxes and regulation. But there are concerns about his age and his penchant for gaffes.
“Everybody likes him. I don’t know if you want him to be president at 78 in 2020, but it looks like he’s in great shape,” said one hedge fund manager and top Democratic donor. “If it’s Biden and Beto or Biden and Harris, that might make a difference. The good news for Biden is everyone likes him. The bad news is there is not a lot of passion.”
Among the most hardcore Democrats on Wall Street, the strong desire is to find a candidate — any candidate — who can beat Trump, even if that means getting behind someone like Warren who supports policies that bankers hate.
“Everybody just wants to win,” a second senior executive who has worked in Democratic politics at the presidential level said. “It’s as wide open as I’ve ever seen it. There is no gravitational force that everyone is sort of running towards. Everyone has their candidate. Frankly, if people believed Warren would win, they’d jump on board. And everyone in the top tier not named Bernie Sanders could probably win.”

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