Ranking Which Republican Presidential Candidates Are Best For Entrepreneurs
Updated: Oct 26
By Neil St. Clair
This article was originally published on Forbes.com (October, 2015)
In case you missed it, we're in the middle of the 2016 GOP Presidential Nomination. It seems everyone with a questionably functioning Broca's area (controls speech) and a pulpit has thrown their hat in the ring. And while the debate is currently focused on oversized personalities, and "other" politics, we haven't heard too much about which Republican would be best for entrepreneurs should they win the nomination and then the Presidency (next we'll tackle the Democrats).
Sure, most of them say they're pro-business, but who really has the track record, the ideas and a real plan to help the next generation of startups go from zero to exit? Cutting taxes for corporations really means very little for entrepreneurs who are living off investment--and we all know those tax-savings for Fortune 500s likely aren't flowing to the hiring of startups as service providers.
So, here we'll do our very best to qualitatively quantify the top GOP candidates for the startup community.
Why Should You Care About Which Candidate is Best for Entrepreneurship in America?
Assuming you're not an entrepreneur yourself, in which case, it's obvious.
Firstly, entrepreneurs are shaping our economy, have celebrity status, and are helping craft the conversation of politics (e.g. Facebook sponsored a debate and has a PAC, Twitter is a primary means of campaigning, and some entrepreneurs have a lot of money and friends with money). Entrepreneurs are perhaps a niche market when compared to say undecided, middle income, female voters, but former AOL co-founder Steve Case and Revolution's "Rise of the Rest" Tour make the case that politicians ignore entrepreneurs at their own peril: Why Startups Will Have a Massive Impact on the 2016 Elections.
Secondly, America is a great country, but we've fallen a bit behind in economics and innovation. Sure, we have Apple and Tesla. But China and India are leading in "less sexy" innovation and manufacturing (e.g. making parts for Apple) that is fueling their economic engine. Since 2005, the American economy has grown at an average annualized rate of around 1.4% (2.1% since the 2008 crash). And the World Bank predicts we'll see around a 2.5% average annualized growth over the next several years. By comparison, while China is slowing down, their growth rate during the same period was 9.9% (8% since 2008) with growth of around 7% expected for the next several years. (Do note that America is 5th on the Global Innovation Index put out by Cornell/INSEAD/WIPO. as GDP is not the only measure of growth. But we do also have a significant export/import trade imbalance.)
Now, while China has a similar-sized economy to the U.S., their GNI/capita is much lower--in startup terms they're the "maturing" company that's ending their run of hockey-stick growth and joining with the high market-cap economies like the U.S. where steady, slow growth is normal. The question is, will China end up like Quirky or continue forward like Facebook? And, most importantly, how will fully mature economies like the U.S. react to the maturing competitor? Will we be the taxi industry and watch Uber eat our lunch due to our own unpreparedness? Or will we be like 1990s Apple, reinventing ourselves through innovation to continue growth in the face of competition?
It's these critical questions that should make our question about pro-entrepreneurship candidates the loudest burst the GOP nominating shouting match. We can argue culture and the soul of America, but Americans are truly never so happy (especially with their politicians) as when they have full employment and economic certainty (interestingly, read Derek Bok's book The Politics of Happiness for a countervailing perspective that upside GDP does not equate to a happier population). And the growth engine of this certainty will be coming from companies like Uber, Tesla and their ilk as we once again find American industry serving as the providers of living-wage jobs and the makers of "things." Yes, we can all argue about Schumpeter's "creative destruction" and that efficiency and innovation eliminate jobs, but let's keep this out of the ivory tower (but if you feel like climbing that tower, check out this report from the Kauffman Institute on startups and job creation).
So, now that that we all agree that startups/innovation/entrepreneurship will drive our economic engine (and that our economic growth is a top-priority issue), which candidate can get us over the mountain?
The Candidate List
To determine our list, we looked at the top 10 current candidates polling more than 1% on the RealClearPolitics polling average as of October 9, 2015. The ratings used below are based on a scale of 1-10. With 10 being a clear advantage for Entrepreneurs with this candidate as president, and 1 essentially the Entrepreneurial equivalent of having a centrally-planned economy. We looked at statements they've made, policy outlines, and, most importantly, past entrepreneurial experience/success and/or legislative friendliness to entrepreneurs. All of this is relatively high-level, subjective and highly unscientific I can assure you--and here we're a bit more focused on candidates' likely favorability to entrepreneurs if elected rather than the practicality/feasibility of their plans.
The areas on which the candidates were assessed included:
1. UNEMPLOYMENT: Reducing Unemployment (generally a rising tide lifts all ships)
2. LEGISLATIVE RECORD: Legislation specifically benefiting entrepreneurs (e.g. JOBS Act and Investment Tax Code Reform)
3. TAXES: Simplifying the tax code, Personal Income Tax Reduction and/or Tax Incentives/Reduction for Small Businesses
4. HEALTH CARE: HealthCare Cost Control and Position on the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), which was been seen by some as a boon for Entrepreneurs and the self-employed
5. REGULATION: Clarifying regulatory issues (e.g. those surrounding AirBnB and Uber), and getting regulators out of the way of entrepreneurs
These areas of interest were developed in-line with issues important to entrepreneurs as stated in various polls and media articles, as well as the positions of larger advocacy groups like the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.
The Positive: Say what you will about the guy's mouth, he is a decent entrepreneur. Trump's built billion-dollar businesses, product lines and brands. Yes, he failed in Atlantic City. Yes, he had Trump University. Yes, he arguably destroyed the USFL. But, overall he took his inheritance and created net jobs and financial growth. I'd also be intrigued to see Carl Icahn as Treasury Secretary.
The Negative: The bigger question here is, can he effect policies, compromise and positive change for other entrepreneurs? Self-serving business tactics that win a boardroom don't always win over Congress or foreign leaders when serving others. And it's unclear how his business experience translates into an understanding of material economic-political issues.
1. Reducing Unemployment--No political track record here, but he has created jobs. At the same time, he said the "real" unemployment rate is 42%. So, job creation in the private sector, check. Understanding of national unemployment issues, no check. We also don't see any "real plan" about unemployment anywhere on his campaign site. If the "real" unemployment rate is 42%, as he claims, we still don't know how he'd fix that.
2. Entrepreneur-Specific Legislation--Not a politician, so we can't hold that against him. But we haven't seen much, if anything, in the literature or press about what Trump would do for his fellow entrepreneurs.
3. Taxes--Cut taxes, get rid of the estate tax and reduce the corporate tax rate. Say what you will about the math here, if he could make his tax plan work, it would be a positive for entrepreneurs. Note that when he previously sniffed around running for President, he was in favor of some tax increases, especially for the wealthy.
4. Healthcare--Single-payer system advocate and against ObamaCare...now. Was for universal health care prior to presidential run. Lots of statements, not a lot of real policy solutions. But a single-payer system is debatably a positive for entrepreneurs who can't afford healthcare for themselves or employees.
5. Clearing Regulatory Issues--Trump isn't a fan of regulating our startups to death based on past anti-regulation statements. Though I do think he may take a long look at AirBNB and how it competes with his hotels.
Overall Score: 7. Trump's a solid entrepreneur, but there are many unknowns about him as a political leader.
The Positive: Extremely intelligent. Sixty-seven honorary degrees, and clearly just a different kind of mind.
The Negative: Some of his statements seem to be getting more and more bizarre by the day. He's got very little track record in business or as a politician. And most every doctor I've met isn't exactly adept at running a business.
1. Reducing Unemployment--No political track record here. He's also another unemployment truther, saying the 5.5% listed by the Obama Administration is faulty. No real policy outline on how he'd reduce whatever number he believes unemployment to be.
2. Entrepreneur-Specific Legislation--Not a politician, but no real statements about what he would do for entrepreneurs. Save for this bit about social entrepreneurship.
3. Taxes--Wholesale tax reform. Simpler tax code. End the IRS. Thumbs-up from most entrepreneurs here if he can make this happen.
4. Healthcare--More freedom of choice and less government in our health care system. Lower costs and get rid of ObamaCare. He's a doctor, and one of the few candidates that really knows the inside story on health care costs.
5. Clearing Regulatory Issues--Seems to be against big government, but no specific policy outline.
Overall Score: 5. Not much of a track record in or clear statements on the entrepreneurial ecosystem, but a different kind of thinker that favors small government.
The Positive: An extensive track record as a leader of large, complex organizations. Went from Secretary to CEO according to her website. Best campaign website UX/UI and design.
The Negative: Track record at HP has come under intense scrutiny. As has her Secretary to CEO story.
1. Reducing Unemployment--No political track record here. Some claim 30,000 jobs lost during her HP tenure. No specific plan laid out on how to reduce unemployment.
2. Entrepreneur-Specific Legislation--One of the few candidates to actually put down a plan about entrepreneurship: "Can Startups Save the American Dream." Against net neutrality.
3. Taxes--Lower taxes and simplify the tax code.
4. Healthcare--No to single-payer. Competitive insurance market. Repeal ObamaCare.
5. Clearing Regulatory Issues--Very clear that she'd like to find a regulatory roadmap that makes it easier for startups.
Overall Score: 7.5. One of the few candidates to actually get into the entrepreneurial weeds, but her track record as a business leader needs more vetting.
Senator Marco Rubio (FL)
The Positive: Supported the JOBS Act, and has a demonstrated track record of supporting, or voicing support for, entrepreneurial-related legislative issues, including a recently co-sponsored STEM Act.
The Negative: A career politician. Legislating for job growth is not the same as actually creating jobs or running a company.
1. Reducing Unemployment--Wants to reduce unemployment through education, and reforming the tax code with an emphasis on innovation.
2. Entrepreneur-Specific Legislation--One of the few politico candidates with deeply-expressed condemnation for FCC-regulated net neutrality.
3. Taxes--Allow businesses to 100% expense job-creating activities. Stop new online sales taxes. Ensure internet is tax-free.
4. Healthcare--No single-payer. Refundable tax credit. Low insurance regulations and increase Health Savings Accounts.
5. Clearing Regulatory Issues--Very clear on protecting innovators from regulators.
Overall Score: 7.5. One of the few politically experienced candidates with a strong focus on entrepreneurs and innovation, but some concern that he's never been an entrepreneur himself.
The Positive: Had an early private-sector career and served on several boards after his governorship. He was a proclaimed jobs creator during his time as Florida governor.
The Negative: Sat on the board of Lehman Brothers and InnoVida--both went bankrupt. Has been a politician for much of his career. Unclear track record since 2007.
1. Reducing Unemployment--Proclaims to be one of the strongest demonstrated job creators.
2. Entrepreneur-Specific Legislation--No real recent track record on entrepreneur-specific legislation, but some speeches given on the topic have shown support for innovation at a high level.
3. Taxes--One of the better demonstrated track-records for cutting taxes, especially for small businesses.
4. Healthcare--Anti-ObamaCare. In favor of a conservative health care reform solution.
5. Clearing Regulatory Issues--Very clear that he's against government overreach and for regulatory reform.
Overall Score: 7. A strong job-growth track record with some private sector experience, but not specific around entrepreneurship as the driver of economic growth.
Senator Ted Cruz (TX)
The Positive: Supported the JOBS Act and has a generally well-demonstrated track record of support for causes important to entrepreneurs.
The Negative: Mostly a career politician.
1. Reducing Unemployment--Generally wants to create jobs, but no specific initiatives to benefit entrepreneurs. Though he does have a strong track record of support for pro-business policies.
2. Entrepreneur-Specific Legislation--Supported the JOBS Act. Against net neutrality under the FCC.
3. Taxes--Wants to massively simplify the tax code.
4. Healthcare--Anti-ObamaCare. For the Health Care Choice Act, which he introduced. Allows for more market-based solutions to insurance coverage.
5. Clearing Regulatory Issues--Strongly anti-regulation and government intervention.
Overall Score: 6. Strong pro-business track record with some gleams of entrepreneurial focus, but a career politician lacking specifics on moving innovation and entrepreneurship forward.
The Positive: Some private sector experience, and a seemingly good grasp of entrepreneurship as a driver of growth. Strong job creation and pro-business record.
The Negative: A lot of time as a politician and was on Lehman Brothers board in 2008.
1. Reducing Unemployment--Strong job creation record in Ohio.
2. Entrepreneur-Specific Legislation--Not much entrepreneur-specific legislative record, but generally pro-small business and has created balanced budgets.
3. Taxes--Supports a flat tax, and has demonstrated record in Ohio of eliminating or lowering both personal and corporate taxes.
4. Healthcare--Repeal ObamaCare, but not much beyond that clearly documented.
5. Clearing Regulatory Issues--Wants to eliminate government red tape, and has track record of streamlining regulation.
Overall Score: 7. Pro-business with demonstrated track record of job growth, tax reduction and regulatory reform that would help entrepreneurs, but limited/negative private sector experience.
The Positive: Some demonstrated track record of successful pro-business reforms (e.g. creating a surplus, and some tax reforms).
The Negative: No real private sector track record related to entrepreneurship. Raised taxes, and doesn't seem to place innovation as a central economic theme.
1. Reducing Unemployment--Unemployment rate truther. Somewhat mixed track record on job growth and innovation.
2. Entrepreneur-Specific Legislation--Not much entrepreneur-specific legislative record.
3. Taxes--Supports a fair tax. But both raised and lowered taxes as governor.
4. Healthcare--Repeal ObamaCare, and provide market-based solutions while tackling out-of-control costs.
5. Clearing Regulatory Issues--Generally anti-regulation and government intervention.
Overall Score: 4.5. Mixed tax and job growth records. Unclear where he stands on entrepreneurship/innovation as a central player in economic growth.
The Positive: Has been a generally strong supporter of technology and innovation initiatives in New Jersey, including Technology & Entrepreneurship Industry Week.
The Negative: No real private sector experience. Mixed record on job and economic growth in New Jersey.
1. Reducing Unemployment--Despite a somewhat mixed record of job growth in New Jersey, Christie has placed innovation at center of his economic plan.
2. Entrepreneur-Specific Legislation--Not much entrepreneur-specific legislative record, but has continued to promote entrepreneurial programs and centers in the state.
3. Taxes--Has vetoed tax increases in what is described as a "hostile" legislature. But New Jersey still has a horrible business-friendly tax ranking.
4. Healthcare--Repeal ObamaCare, but no specific alternative.
5. Clearing Regulatory Issues--Generally, get-the-government-out-the-way kind of thinker.
Overall Score: 6.5. Supporter of innovation as a central growth engine, but mixed record on tax and economic success as governor.
The Positive: Has a strong track record of voting for pro-entrepreneurial and pro-business initiatives, and is a champion of small government. Accepts campaign donations in Bitcoin and has campaign office in Austin incubator Capital Factory.
The Negative: Private sector experience is in the medical field only.
1. Reducing Unemployment--Positive pro-business and small business record. Also introduced right-to-work legislation, which is viewed as anti-union. Mostly focused on national debt issue and auditing the Fed.
2. Entrepreneur-Specific Legislation--Voted for the JOBS Act. Generally supportive of entrepreneur-centered legislative initiatives. Against net neutrality.
3. Taxes--Low-rate flat tax and massively simplifying the tax code.
4. Healthcare--Repeal ObamaCare and focus on patient-centered reforms. Introduced legislation around health care reform. As a doctor, should know the inside scoop on medical costs.
5. Clearing Regulatory Issues--Introduced the REIN Act and other transparency issues. Likely one of the loudest anti-regulation voices in the race.
Overall Score: 7.5. Strong support of innovation-centered initiatives and removing regulatory hurdles, but potentially lacks the business-centered experience to be effective voice for entrepreneurs.
The Overall Rankings:
T1) Senator Marco Rubio (FL), 7.5
T1) Carly Fiorina, 7.5
T1) Senator Rand Paul (KY), 7.5
T4) Governor John Kasich, 7
T4) Donald Trump, 7
T4) Former Governor Jeb Bush (FL), 7
7) Governor Chris Christie (NJ), 6.5
8) Senator Ted Cruz (TX), 6
9) Dr. Ben Carson, 5
10) Former Governor Mike Huckabee (AR), 4.5
So, in sum, if you're an entrepreneur, it looks as if you'd be in fat city with a lot of these candidates, should they be elected. But, Sens. Rubio & Paul, along with Carly Fiorina, really stand out as innovative thinkers and friends of entrepreneurs in a very crowded field.
So Who Will Win Entrepreneurs' Hearts & Minds?
Looking at the September 2015 issue of Inc. Magazine, we start to get a deeper sense of the political leanings of entrepreneurs--at least according to the Inc. 500, a ranking of top innovative businesses and entrepreneurs.
· 39% self-described as Republican
· 20% Democrat
· 41% other/independent
If voting occurred today, Hillary Clinton was the front-runner amongst these entrepreneurs with 25% in favor. Jeb Bush came in at 13%, Rand Paul at 8% and Marco Rubio at 7%. All other candidates came in at 5% or less. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, 31% said none of the candidates listed would be their choice for president.
If indeed entrepreneurs will be an influencing factor in wining the hearts and minds of politicos and the electorate in 2016 there appears to still be a long way to go for candidates hoping to appeal to the innovative elite.
Neil St. Clair is a respected social entrepreneur, journalist, and philanthropist. He is currently CEO & Founder of social change consultancy, NES Impact as well as fear-focused venture studio, Notimor. An advocate for children and gender equity, he founded and chairs The NextMen Foundation.
Follow him on IG @neilstclair