CD8 primary candidate David Trone has an article up on Huffington Post regarding the unfortunate effect that Donald Trump may be having on Democratic activists and voters. Trone argues, persuasively in my view, that demonizing all business people seeking public office as “just another Donald Trump” is bad for the Democratic Party, both because it discourages qualified progressive business people from running for office and because it plays into GOP stereotypes of Democrats as reflexively anti-business.
The question is whether the Democratic Party will continue to have a place for experienced progressive business as elected officials, or will mindless comparisons with Trump make it almost impossible? I believe Democrats will make a huge mistake if Trump’s candidacy leads them to reject candidates with business backgrounds, particularly with economic issues at the center of the public policy debate.
Just as diversity makes our country stronger, the same is true for a political party. Elected officials with a business background bring a unique set of skills and experience that can help Democrats govern successfully and solve vexing questions around middle class job creation and wage growth. These skills complement rather than mitigate the orientation of candidates from law and the public sector. Politically, business candidates help defeat many arguments Republicans use against us.
The stereotyping runs deep. Too many commentators and Democratic activists presume business candidates care about profits over people, loyalty to the status quo, want to “run government like a business,” and do not have experience that will translate into the public sector.
In reality, business candidates bring skills honed through training and experience that can help government succeed. We know how to develop and execute a strategy for the long term, prepare workforces for the future, extract efficiencies from scarce resources, create and work within budgets, and find novel solutions to nettlesome problems. We know that long-term investments are required to achieve larger goals, and that true success is only achieved if all stakeholders succeed.
Entrepreneurs, in particular, fight against and disrupt a hidebound status quo that resists competition to the disadvantage of consumers. In the process, they drive innovation and growth. People with business backgrounds integrate information from disparate sources to accurately forecast outcomes and successfully negotiate among players with initially divergent interests. In the retail sector, our laser focus on the consumer is particularly useful at a time when elected officials should put the interests of the citizen first.
Few would disagree that these skills and experiences are important in government. On the other hand, many Democratic activists are too quick to dismiss the people who have them. Instead, they fall back on baseless stereotypes of business candidates as ingrained as the stereotypes with which Republicans attack Democrats.
The Trump comparison with Democratic business candidates fails on a number of grounds. Trump exhibits few of these skills, having risen to fame mainly through a combination of inherited wealth and an uncanny facility for self-promotion. But the real problem with the Trump parallel is assuming that other business candidates share his world view.
And to be clear, Trone doesn’t blame his loss on this phenomenon.
I don’t blame my opponents for helping voters draw those comparisons: They saw an advantage and took it. And while I do not think I lost simply because of Trump’s looming presence in the minds of Democratic primary voters, it certainly made my campaign more difficult.
I’d say that this problem isn’t a new one prompted solely by Donald Trump. It is, however, increasingly prevalent and it is worrisome. We talk about creating jobs and making our communities good places for businesses to come to and be part of, but we are quick to criticize business candidates and paint them as caricatures, and to leave businesses out of the discussion when we are talking about jobs and, well, attracting businesses to come to Maryland and Montgomery County.
This attitude is insanely shortsighted and counterproductive. It helped bring us Larry Hogan as governor. There is a Democratic and progressive argument for job creation and promotion of business, whether it be new, green-oriented and sustainable businesses, more established industries like biotech, and even traditional, seemingly lost forever sectors like heavy manufacturing. Looking down our noses at business-oriented candidates as if they have a disease is not at all helpful. Whether you find any particular candidate such as David Trone attractive, dismissing the entire spectrum of business interests as politically beyond the pale is both substantively and strategically dumb.