SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's business community may not be affected directly by the recent disbanding of two presidential advisory panels, but the long-term impacts of President Donald Trump's behavior may be felt locally in the months to come, a local analyst says.
On Wednesday, Trump dissolved two of his economic advisory councils following the departure of several CEOs who resigned in the wake of his response to a white nationalist clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. The president announced in a tweet the dismantling of the Manufacturing Council, and the Strategic and Policy Forum. While the councils were largely ceremonial with no real substantive powers, the head of the state's top global commerce orgainzation said the corporate leaders were no longer willing to be associated with someone they felt might become detrimental to their firms.
"That's why it was so easy for those CEOs to leave because there was no real value outside of (public relations) purposes anyway," explained Derek Miller, president and chief executive officer of World Trade Center Utah. "Once the P.R. gets turned on its head with the president making the controversial comments that he did, if you're a CEO, you have to ask yourself, 'What's the value anymore?'"
Miller said there has been an ongoing "uneasiness" between corporate business leaders and the president starting during his campaign, due primarily to his policies and comments leading up to his election. He noted that Trump's promises of a "business-friendly" administration, negotiating better trade agreements, tax reform, overhauling health care and regulatory reform were issues that gave big business a belief they could align with his administration. However, that "uneasy marriage" has soured over the past several months.
"Congress failed on fixing Obamacare, we're not making any progress currently on better trade agreements, and there is very little oxygen in the room that Congress can get anything done on tax reform," he said. "The only thing that the administration has delivered on is rolling back some of the burdensome business regulations."
Miller said this latest incident seemed to have given the business community reason to distance itself from Trump and his controversial rhetoric.
"At the end of the day, they have customers and they have to be on the right side of their customer base," he said. "It's being sensitive to their employees (and) sensitive to their customers."
He also noted that it may be hard for the two sides to ever mend their fences following such a high-profile, public breakup.
"Makes me wonder if we will start to see these business leaders who are very wealthy, very influential, very powerful and — by and large — very conservative, if you're going to see them try to find somebody who might challenge Donald Trump for the Republican primary in the next presidential cycle," Miller said. "That's going to be fascinating to watch."
Regarding how the disbanding of the councils may affect Utah, Miller said the impact will likely be unnoticeable. But what could be of impact is the recent reopening of negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"We hope that NAFTA does see some significant improvement that will help Utah businesses," Miller said. "We need to watch that closely because the risk is that all the oxygen will get sucked out of the room because of Russia (and) Charlottesville and no oxygen is left to get these important things done like the renegotiation of NAFTA."
He said the deal probably needs to be completed within the next 12 months before attention in Washington, D.C., shifts to the next year's midterm elections.
"Otherwise, you go into a news cycle of congressional elections of 2018 and you go into a news cycle of a presidential election in Mexico," he explained. "If we can't get NAFTA done before that happens, then we're starting again with a whole (new Mexican administration) at 'ground zero.'"