I’m not ready to predict a winner in this year’s presidential sweepstakes – all pundit predictions have been spectacularly wrong this season. But I am prepared to declare a loser: big business. The so-called “establishment” Republican candidates – Rubio and Kasich – got trounced (Rubio won only in Minnesota.) Donald Trump is prevailing by trampling all over the business agenda – freer trade, more high-skilled immigration, balanced budgets – and demonizing an ever longer list of the Fortune 500 companies – Pfizer was back in his sites last night. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, while trailing, has succeeded in his original goal of pushing the Democratic party far to the left. Hillary Clinton now often sounds almost indistinguishable from him, and has dug an anti-bank, anti-business, anti-trade, Elizabeth-Warren-friendly foxhole from which she will find it difficult to extricate herself.
On FORTUNE this morning, Jeffrey Garten, former dean of the Yale School of Management, warns that it “would be a mistake of historic proportions for big business to assume it can control whoever is elected, or that it can limit the damage, or that any new president will tack to the center.” Instead, he calls on business leaders to adopt “a new grand strategy,” not unlike the one they developed after World War II, that, among other things, would build public support for an open, entrepreneurial, multilateral economy; push policies that will mitigate income disparities and other glaring social problems (climate, infrastructure); and identify several dynamic CEOs who can play a stronger role in providing public leadership.
Bottom line: the head-in-the-sand strategy isn’t working.