8 April 2020
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Do Malcolm T and Donald T prove businessmen can't do politics?

This year is a vital one for the Prime Minister, who has been continually beaten up by Newspoll and is looking at defeat in the 2019 poll unless things improve and fast! And his plight, in light of Donald Trump’s struggles as the 45th president of the USA, makes me ask the question: “Are entrepreneurs/businessmen cut out for politics?”

Time.com says Donald ended 2017 as the most unpopular President in modern times.

“A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that just 39% of Americans approve of Trump’s performance, the lowest figure the poll has found for a modern president completing one year in office,” Time tells us.

After a year, George W. Bush rated 82%, Bill Clinton 60% and Barack Obama was at 50% but he had a ‘little’ problem called the GFC market crash and upcoming recession to deal with.

Of course, Mr Trump is not totally unpopular with the book on him - Fire and Fury, written by Michael Wolff-  bound to be the best-selling book globally, if the number of these books on display at airport newsagents are any guide!

Donald Trump has had some ups and downs in his business history but his latter story, pre-president, showed he had mastered his competitive advantage and his brand.

His worldwide top rating TV show The Apprentice was used brilliantly to flog his “Trump” brand name globally, such that he didn’t have to outlay money on new projects. Instead, others took the investment/debt risk in building hotels, golf courses and the like, and the Trump conglomerate simply booked up the revenue with a very skinny cost bottom line.

It sounded like business heaven but then the master and commander of Trump Inc. decided to slap his brand on the biggest business show in town — the US presidency!

However, Donald’s tweet-based presidency, and his controversial decisions from the White House, are not just losing him political friends and voters, he’s losing business supporters too.

The Chicago Tribune gave us an example in November last year. “Owners of the Trump International Hotel in Panama are working to strip President Donald Trump's name from the 70-story building and fire the hotel management company run by Trump's family,”  the legendary newspaper reported. “The property once paid at least $32 million to associate with Trump.”

And the troubles are not isolated.

“The uprising by Panama hotel owners — following news that Trump was effectively being paid to end a similar management contract for the Trump Soho hotel in New York — points to continued struggles for the Trump brand outside strongholds like Mar-a-Lago in Florida and the Trump Hotel in Washington,” The Tribune pointed out.

But the political story might be even more worrying for the President’s grip on the presidency than his business story.

According to Wolff, who says his interviews with the likes of Steve Bannon, the President’s former chief strategist, after he was fired, led him to conclude that he is a “stumbling incompetent” and a man “not equipped to do this job”. He reports that Rupert Murdoch, in frustration after a meeting with Donald, described him as a “f---ing idiot” but whether that’s true or not, we know Trump is not a general idiot.

For God’s sake, an idiot doesn’t create the Trump brand, Trump Towers and beat Hillary Clinton to become the President of the USA!

At best, we can argue he is a limited genius when it comes to understanding consumers and voters but he has a few blind spots.

These start with political correctness, history, the law, international relations, EQ matters and where gets his big F — conventional politics!

He is an unconventional politician at a time when politics has turned unconventional. In the US, they have the likes of the Tea Party changing the nature of Republican politics, which forces conservative politicians to move away from the centre.

Trump’s very victory, the young French President, the young female PM in New Zealand, the struggles of Angela Merkel in Germany to form government, as well as the likes of Pauline Hanson, Jacqui Lambie and Derryn Hinch winning seats in Parliament at our last general election, shows politics worldwide is changing — big time!

The political landscape in the 21st century is weirdly unconventional. However, still winning power and keeping it, as well as looking presidential or parliamentary, are challenges that many unconventional pollies struggle with.

Clearly, this isn’t at all a problem for Malcolm Turnbull. He looks the goods. He sounds parliamentary and doesn’t make Trump-like gaffes. To date, however, he’s had trouble delivering those goods, or at least he’s struggled with looking like he’s a deliverer in the political setting.

Politics is different to the world of the entrepreneur or the big end of town executive. You have enemies everywhere — inside and outside of your party — and your customers aren’t easily profiled and you’re often not sure what you should sell to them.

This is a long way from the world of business, where you know what you’re selling, who your target audience is and it’s off to an ad agency or TV to rope ‘em in.

Making it all even harder for Malcolm is the new political setting in Australia, with the rag tag mob in the Senate and the arrival of tribalism politics hyped up by a vindictive social media world. This has made it hard for any politician, even without the problems of being a successful entrepreneur!

This an environment that makes people like me argue that business types generally can’t do politics, as history shows, but now the hurdles for political success are higher than ever before.

So let’s accept Messrs. Trump and Turnbull can’t do politics well, as the polls show, but they could be saved by something inextricably connected to their beloved world of business — the economy.

The US economic outlook is looking very bright and the Trump tax cuts will make it better. Meanwhile, in Australia, our economic performance is lifting by the day. As someone who watches the data turnover daily, I can assure you that by the time of the next election in 2019, the PM will have an economy to crow about.

Last year we created 403,000 jobs in one year — the fastest growth in employment in over 12 years and the Australian Industry Group’s survey of top executives says another 400,000 are on the way this year!

If Trump can’t do well in the mid-term elections at the end of this year and Turnbull can’t win the election next year with the economies they are bound to be living with, then I think my argument that entrepreneurs/business leaders just can’t do politics has a hell of a lot of merit.

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