America's CEOs say Trump failed on coronavirus -- and they're backing Biden

© Evan Vucci/AP President Donald Trump leaves after speaking about coronavirus testing during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump says he deserves an “A+” for his handling of the pandemic. Corporate America says he deserves a failing grade.

Fifty-five percent of CEOs and other business leaders give Trump an “F” for his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a poll conducted by the Yale School of Management. Another 12% say Trump deserves a “D.”

Just 6% of the attendees at Yale’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute CEO Caucus award Trump an “A” for his handling of Covid-19.

Many CEOs want new leadership in the White House even though Trump is promising four more years of low taxes and light regulations — policies that C-Suites often crave.

A staggering 77% of business leaders polled by Yale say they plan to vote for Joe Biden over Trump in the November election. That’s despite Biden’s proposals to hike tax rates on both corporations and the high-income households.

The findings suggest Trump’s support from the business community is fraying after years of bitter partisanship.

“CEOs are not in the business of divisiveness. Their jobs are easier if they don’t have a divided nation, workforce and customers,” Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for leadership studies at Yale, told CNN Business.

Although CEOs are “afraid to speak out” publicly against Trump, Sonnenfeld said they will do so privately and collectively. The Yale summit featured dozens of leading executives, including the heads of General Motors, IBM, Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson, Johnson & Johnson and Goodyear.

In response to the Yale survey, Trump Campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement: “President Trump has mobilized an unprecedented effort of government and the private sector to fight the virus, and has projected calm at every step to avoid causing public panic.”

84% say response to pandemic made it worse

Trump, who ran for the White House in 2015 as the nation’s first CEO president, swiftly enacted a pro-business agenda highlighted by massive corporate tax cuts and a war on regulation.

Yet business leaders are more concerned about the less business-friendly aspects of the Trump era: trade wars and a pandemic that plunged the United States into recession.

CEOs are not just upset the Trump administration didn’t do more to limit the pandemic. They fear the government made it worse.

Eighty-four percent of business leaders surveyed by Yale say the Trump administration’s response to the crisis has hurt, not helped, their businesses. And 86% said that the 200,000 Covid-19 deaths in the United States could have been “far less” with a more vigorous government response.

The United States accounts for more than 20% of the more than 1 million people who have died worldwide from Covid-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Doubts about trade deal with China

On trade, 62% of executives said their businesses suffered from unfair trade practices in China. Yet a greater percentage — 78% — say the Trump administration’s policies made US-China relations worse.

Trump imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of exports from Chinato get the w orld’s No. 2 economy to reform its trade tactics. The two nations reached a Phase One trade agreement in late 2019.

Yet China is not living up to its promise to ramp up purchases of US goods, especially agricultural and energy products. Just 21% of business leaders said the Phase One deal positively impacted their business.

Skepticism about Trump is also evident in campaign donations.

Wall Street has sent nearly five times more cash to Biden than to Trump, according to OpenSecrets. Trump is losing the fundraising race among Wall Streeters by a greater magnitude than he did in 2016 and than Senator John McCain did in 2008. In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney, a former private equity executive, tripled President Obama’s fundraising haul from the industry.

Trump has repeatedly defended his administration’s handling of the pandemic by pointing to the high volume of testing and efforts to rapidly develop a vaccine.

“Tremendous progress is being made,” Trump said during a press briefing Monday. “We’re rounding the corner. And very importantly, vaccines are coming, but we’re rounding the corner regardless.”

Last week, Trump suggested his problem is one mostly of communications.

“We’ve done a phenomenal job. Not just a good job, a phenomenal job,” Trump told Fox News. “Other than public relations, but that’s because I have fake news. On public relations, I give myself a D. On the job itself, we take an A+.”

Government response created ‘confusion’

During the Yale CEO summit, David Shulkin, Trump’s first secretary of Veterans Affairs, expressed dismay at the federal government’s handling of the pandemic.

“We not only failed early on in the ability to be prepared in our supply chain and diagnostic capabilities,” Shulkin said, “but our bigger failure is the consistency of message and confusion we’re creating among the public.”

Shulkin added that public skepticism about a potential Covid-19 vaccine “is a reflection of the failure of having a national strategy, having a consistent message among our leadership.”

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, whose company is developing a vaccine, urged the business community to fill the void left by a lack of trust in the government.

“Businesses need to step up and also add their voice because people right now are confused,” Bourla said during the Yale event. “They don’t know what to believe or who to believe.”

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