Retired Home Depot CEO: Trump 'remembers what got him elected'

Home Depot co-founder and former CEO Bernie Marcus talks about Trump's economic agenda and campaign promises. (SBG)

President Donald Trump is already taking steps to keep campaign promises that will benefit small businesses and the millions of workers they employ, according to Home Depot co-founder and former CEO Bernie Marcus, but some economists disagree.

“I love the fact that when he says he’s going to do something that he really does it, and doesn’t give you the political oratory nonsense,” Marcus said while speaking to two Sinclair stations Monday.

A new Gallup poll shows 45 percent of Americans believe Trump keeps his word, down from 62 percent in February. Marcus, an early Trump supporter who views him as “an enigma” and “a great disruptor” in Washington, remains faithful that the president will do what he said he would on the campaign trail.

Foremost among Trump’s promises that resonated with Marcus was creating more jobs in America.

“All of these companies that used to leave the United States now understand that there’s a place here, that they’re going to be treated fairly and evenly as far as taxes, and they are creating jobs here,” Marcus said.

Since Trump took office, the record streak of months of consecutive job growth that began under President Obama has continued, though it did slow in March. Manufacturing and mining, fields where Trump has focused much of his attention, have seen gains, but other areas like retail have slumped.

Marcus mentioned Carrier, a company that decided to keep a factory in the U.S. instead of moving it to Mexico after a personal appeal from Trump. The air conditioner manufacturer is still sending some jobs to Mexico.

Trump will be speaking at Snap-on Tools in Kenosha, Wisconsin Tuesday to promote manufacturing in one of the states where blue collar workers were vital to his electoral success.

“He remembers very carefully what got him elected,” Marcus said.

Less than 90 days into Trump’s presidency, some left-leaning economic experts say it is far too soon to draw any sweeping conclusions about the effects of his policies.

“An incoming president, no matter from what party that person is, cannot take credit for the continuation of an ongoing trend,” said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute.

There may be an expectation of stronger job growth in the future, but so far, the data is in line with Obama-era averages.

“There’s more response to what people perceive to be the likely direction of his decisions than anything he has done yet,” said Jeff Hauser, director the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic Policy and Research.

Polls also indicate that perception is outpacing reality, with many Republicans adopting a more upbeat view of the economy since the election despite a lack of substantial changes in policy or data.

A recent poll of Wisconsin Republicans found that there has been a net swing of 82 percentage points since October in Republicans’ opinions of whether the economy is getting better. A national Pew Research Center poll found a jump of 31 percent in Republicans viewing the economy as somewhat or very good since March 2016.

A similar effect has been seen in the stock market, where anticipation of Trump’s economic policies is believed to have been a major factor in the rally that drove stocks up in the months after the election. That surge has cooled as reality set in, but banks and businesses that produce large amounts of greenhouse gases are still riding high on the expectation that Trump will reverse regulations holding them back.

Undoing Obama-era regulations is one area where Trump does appear to be true to his word. Using executive orders and the Congressional Review Act, Trump and Republicans have already rolled back many of the rules Obama put into effect in his final months in office.

“You have no idea how onerous some of these regulations were,” Marcus said.

He was particularly pleased with a proposed rule that would require agencies to eliminate two regulations for every new one they enact. He believes that will greatly benefit small businesses.

“They’ve been getting killed for the last eight years, regulation after regulation after regulation. And he has already started dismantling all of that,” he said.

Even with regard to regulations, Hauser said the positive response from the business sector is more about the signals being sent and the trajectory the Trump administration is on than what it has done.

“In general, there’s not a lot that he’s done that’s radically changing the economy,” he said.

Many of the regulations Trump is reversing shift economic resources rather than fundamentally altering them. For example, changes that benefit the coal industry will hurt companies that handle solar and other renewable energy sources.

“A lot of these things are more about trade-offs than they are about net positives for the economy,” Hauser said.

Shierholz, who served as chief economist for the Department of Labor under Obama, argued that Trump’s anti-regulatory crusade runs counter to his campaign rhetoric about standing up for forgotten American workers.

“It’s really right down the road blocking regulations or delaying regulations that actually help regular people,” she said.

One example she cited was the delay of the fiduciary rule, which would require financial advisors to act in their clients’ best interests.

“The regular people are the ones who are losing over and over again,” she said.

Critics also fear a disregard for workers in tax reforms under consideration by the Trump administration, but Marcus insisted Trump’s changes to the tax code will help the middle class.

“There’s a misunderstanding about tax breaks,” he said. “It’s not just for big business. Tax breaks are there for everybody, including small businesses.”

The tax proposals championed by Trump during the campaign and the plan put forth by House Republicans last year would disproportionately benefit the wealthy and big corporations. Independent analyses did predict stronger economic growth, investment, and job creation as a result, although experts also expected significant increases in the federal deficit.

According to Marcus, his organization, the Job Creators Network, is fighting to ensure that small businesses get a boost from tax reform.

“We are now making sure that the tax bill that they write includes everybody,” he said.

Liberal economists are skeptical that policies under consideration by the White House and the Republican Congress will really help “everybody.”

“There’s just no question that the beneficiaries of that tax proposal would be unbelievably skewed toward the top,” Shierholz said, referring to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center.

Hauser emphasized that rifts exist within the Republican Party and even within the Trump administration over which taxes to impose or repeal and how to pay for them.

“What the Trump tax plan is right now isn’t something even the Trump administration agrees on,” he said.

Marcus claimed Trump is working across party lines and trying to win support from Democrats.

“He’s a business guy. He’s trying to make a deal. This deal is good for America,” he said.

While he has met with some congressional Democrats, Trump sought little Democratic input on health care and he has repeatedly insulted Democratic leaders.

“During the campaign, his rhetoric on economics was much more progressive than how he has governed,” Hauser said.

Trump’s opposition to trade agreements on the campaign trail differentiated him from most Republican politicians and aligned him more with Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. Since taking office, he has backed out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as he promised, but he has taken no action on renegotiating NAFTA.

Many Democrats remain outraged by Trump’s behavior and agenda, and they continue to pressure their lawmakers to resist him.

Marcus dismissed the protests held in cities across the country Saturday over Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, though he said he believes Trump should have released them. He pointed to the fact that Trump was elected despite the controversy as proof voters did not care.

“They weren’t as concerned about what he was paying in taxes as they are about what they’re paying in taxes,” he said.

Trump expressed similar sentiments on Twitter Sunday, reviving his unsubstantiated allegation that the protesters are being paid.

A January Washington Post/ABC News poll found nearly three-fourths of voters want Trump to release his taxes, including half of those who voted for him.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed Monday that Trump has no intention of releasing his tax records anytime soon, citing routine audits. Every president since Jimmy Carter has released their tax returns while in office despite being automatically audited by the IRS.

Regardless of the ongoing acrimony and flagging approval ratings, Marcus is confident Trump will succeed in Washington just as he did throughout his improbable presidential campaign.

“They’re never going to learn how to deal with him because he’s so different from anybody else,” he said.

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