Wall Street types who know JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon say they weren’t surprised by comments he made last week that he could beat President Trump in an election, because Dimon has always weighed running for president and Trump’s election proved he could do it, too.
But these same people also say Dimon’s comments were an indication of a largely under-reported story on the bizarre relationship between the businessman president and the business elite of this country.
The left likes to think Trump has corporate America in his back pocket because of his efforts to cut taxes and red tape. But the relationship is more complicated. Yes, the nation’s corporate titans like much of what Trump has done economically, but they also think he could just as easily blow it all with his loose ethics, personal toxicity and penchant to adopt what they view as bizarre trade policies.
Dimon just had to cajones to say it.
But . . . why? Why would Dimon antagonize the president, given that JP Morgan is a heavily regulated bank? Part of it stems from Dimon’s own brash (some would say volatile) personality.
But I’m told that Dimon also knows that at this stage of his career, and unlike most other top CEOs, he’s earned the street cred to speak his mind.
He runs the one bank that might have survived the 2008 financial collapse because he didn’t misuse JP Morgan’s balance sheet to gamble on the excesses that emerged from the housing bubble, like nearly all of his peers did. Moreover, he’s a centrist Democrat who refused to sit by and allow then-President Barack Obama and his regulatory minions go on the attack against wealth creators in the aftermath of the collapse — so he can say, with the record to back it up, that this isn’t about partisan politics.
At times during the Obama presidency, Dimon sounded like the second coming of Ronald Reagan, blaming Obama’s class-warfare and bank-targeting punitive regulation for the dismal economic growth of those years. He also paid for his honesty: In response, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder appeared to leave no rock unturned to find dirt on either Dimon or his bank, resulting in huge fines and one of the most trying periods in Dimon’s long career on Wall Street.
Dimon survived the Obama years and JP Morgan remains the country’s premier bank and one of the world’s most profitable companies.
I’m told Dimon wasn’t much of a fan of either candidate in 2016, but he warmed to Trump when the president showed he’d make good on his campaign promises to unleash US businesses. Trump and his acolytes even floated Dimon’s name as Treasury secretary and a personal relationship even took shape.
Like other CEOs, Dimon was mortified by Trump’s odd response to the Charlotteville riots and he (and other CEOs) abandoned a business-advisory council in protest. But by the end of Trump’s Year One, Dimon traveled to the White House to personally applaud the president’s economic successes. In January 2018, he led a procession of bank executives giving Trump a hero’s welcome at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The real turning point for Dimon — and much of corporate America — came this year when the president went on a wild spree of threats against any and all trade partners, warning of tariffs and other retaliation.
Trump’s “fair trade” obsessions aren’t consistent with economic reality, especially of the manufacturing sector. And there appears to be no method to the madness:
No one will argue with the idea that the United States needs to get tough with bad actors like China, which steals US intellectual property from companies as a condition of doing business in its markets. But Dimon couldn’t understand why Trump put NAFTA partners like Canada, or our European allies, nearly in the same boat. After all, don’t we need a coalition to put maximum pressure of China to change its ways?
Robert Mueller’s investigation also has CEOs nervous. Most of the big banks refused to do business with the Trump Organization during the president’s long and controversial history as a real-estate investor, and these executives worry that Trump’s pre-presidential business dealings make him vulnerable.
After Trump’s harsh response to Dimon’s comments, Dimon backtracked a bit and claimed he isn’t running for president (now). But one thing Dimon didn’t do is apologize. That’s because Dimon, like the vast majority of corporate America, believes every word he said.
Charles Gasparino is a Fox Business senior correspondent.