NEW YORK -- The fireside chat at JPMorgan Chase’s headquarters was to discuss the bank’s new $500 million philanthropic program to boost American cities, but CEO Jamie Dimon, got a common question: Would he run for president?
Dimon’s delivered a blunt response: “I think I could beat Trump. ... I’m as tough as he is, I’m smarter than he is.”
Dimon made a quick retreat, but Trump hit back Thursday morning, saying that Dimon “doesn’t have the aptitude or smarts” to run for president.
The 24-hour kerfuffle between the leader of the country and the head of its largest bank lit up Wall Street, which has jumped to near record profits under the Trump administration.
In his more than decade at the helm of JPMorgan, Dimon has won the loyalty of the business world, but also built a reputation for a sometimes brash demeanor. “He will use words that others won’t use,” said Mike Mayo, a long-time banking analyst, who also compared the Queens native to a “street athlete.”
It comes at a time when Dimon has become more of a fixture in Washington as chairman of the Business Roundtable, a powerful lobbying group that represents CEOs of large U.S. companies. He also served on Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum until it was disbanded last year. His frequent trips to the city -- he is often spotted on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers -- have sparked speculation that he could be preparing to run for president, a possibility that Dimon has repeatedly dismissed. (Online bookmaker BetDSI gives Dimon 60-to-1 odds of running in 2020.)
“The bottom line is Jamie would be a superb president of the United States,” said billionaire investor Ken Langone, who once tried to hire Dimon to run Home Depot. “That is all I am going to say about it.”
Exacerbating the presidential speculation has been Dimon’s intensifying focus on the country’s policy issues. About a third of Dimon’s last annual letter to shareholders was dedicated to policy topics, including the "need for solutions through collaborative, competent government” and “America’s growing fiscal deficit and fixing our entitlement programs.”
“We need to do a significantly better job of managing our economy if we want it to be world class,” Dimon said in the letter. “And, finally, ceding America’s leadership role on the world stage is a bad idea for everyone -- inside and outside our great land.”
Dimon has finance in his blood. His father was a successful New York stockbroker. He attended Manhattan’s elite Browning School, where he graduated fourth in his class and excelled in mathematics, according to Last Man Standing, a biography of Dimon by Duff McDonald. Even then, he was known for his outspokenness and willingness to challenge authority.
Dimon has long been a darling of Wall Street, helping JPMorgan navigate the global financial crisis and reach near record profits a decade later. “He is the last of the CEOs left from the financial crisis,” said Ken Leon, a banking analyst for CFRA Research.
But it has not always been smooth. In 2012, JPMorgan suffered a massive loss following damaging bets, initiated by a trader known as the “London Whale,” that ultimately cost the bank at least $6.2 billion. Dimon faced a congressional lashing and fended off an attempt by some shareholders to take away his chairmanship role and leave him solely the bank’s chief executive.
Dimon and Trump are not known to be close friends but are both successful New York business executives. Dimon hails from the banking side of business. Trump is a product of New York’s rough-and-tumble real estate circles, where he enhanced the family fortune started by his father. ("And by the way this wealthy New Yorker actually earned his money. It wasn’t a gift from daddy,” Dimon said during the fireside chat Tuesday, pointing to himself and noting that he grew up in the “poorer part of Queens. ")
In fact, this isn’t the first time that Trump has been critical of Dimon. In 2013, JPMorgan was attempting to settle charges that it had sold bad mortgages in the run-up to the financial crisis. Dimon was called to Washington to meet personally with then-Attorney General Eric Holder to negotiate a deal, cameras following him as he approached the front door of the Justice Department. The eventual $13 billion settlement is one of the most expensive penalties ever paid by a corporation.
“I don’t believe in settling cases. I’m not Jamie Dimon, who pays $13 billion to settle a case and then pays $11 billion to settle a case,” Trump said at the time. Dimon, “I think, is the worst banker in the United States.”
During his presidential campaign, Trump often appeared to be at war with the Wall Street elite. But that began to change once he was president and hired several prominent former bankers to key positions. Trump even reportedly considered Dimon for Treasury Secretary.
And last year, when Trump announced a broad effort to ease regulations on Wall Street, particularly the Dodd Frank financial reform measures adopted in 2010, he singled out Dimon’s potential contribution. “There is nobody better to tell me about Dodd-Frank than Jamie,” Trump said, motioning toward the silver-haired executive from across a table.
Congress passed sweeping legislation earlier this year easing key financial crisis-era regulations.
On Thursday, even as Trump hit back at Dimon, he appeared to hedge a bit. Dimon is a “poor public speaker” and a “nervous mess.” But, Trump said, “otherwise he is wonderful.”