DAVOS, Switzerland — Donald Trump may have finally gained entry into the exclusive global club of the corporate elites he has long scorned — and which has scorned him. All it took was a $1.5 trillion tax cut and a much more hands-off approach toward regulating companies for business leaders to embrace him.
It is a big change in attitude from a year ago, when many in the business elite viewed President Trump’s inauguration and nationalistic brand of politics with high anxiety. Business leaders and their companies slammed the new administration’s ban on travel from six majority-Muslim countries — filling their social media accounts with criticism — and seven months later disbanded advisory councils to the president to protest his racially charged remarks about Charlottesville.
Trump’s arrival at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday — the epicenter of global financial elites — showed how much the cold relationship had thawed.
While there was some wariness about Trump’s presidential style and apprehension about his stance on immigration and trade, many executives applauded an economic agenda built around corporate tax cuts and deregulation that they said was helping to bring investment and jobs to the United States. There were still some holdouts, who expressed concern that the tax cut would increase the deficit and worsen inequality.
But a number of executives said Trump’s first year has gone better than they expected — even those who have been among his loudest critics.
“I like a lot more stuff than I don’t like,” Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein said on CNBC on Wednesday.
Trump , in his usual fashion, seemed to appreciate the welcome as he began his two days in Davos. Asked by a journalist whether he thought he would be received well, he responded, “I already am.”
Back in the United States, half a dozen Republican senators this week warned against taking further harsh measures on trade, after Trump imposed tariffs on washing machines and solar panels, and called on the administration to tread carefully as it renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But corporate Twitter accounts were more likely to boast of how they were using their savings from the tax cut than they were to criticize the president’s policies, helping to reshape the narrative around Trump.
Wall Street titans such as Blankfein and JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon were highly critical of the president over the summer for pulling out of the Paris climate accord and making racially charged remarks after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
“I strongly disagree with President Trump’s reaction to the events that took place in Charlottesville,” Dimon said at the time. “Constructive economic and regulatory policies are not enough and will not matter if we do not address the divisions in our country.”
But at the annual gathering of corporate and political elitein Davos, Dimon portrayed Trump as a leader who has unconventional methods but gets things done, especially for businesses, and predicted his policies would drive an economic boom.
“I think it’s possible you’re going to hit 4 percent sometime this year,” Dimon said in an interview with CNBC. “I promise you, we are going to be sitting here in a year and you all will be worrying about inflation and wages going up too high.”
Blankfein, who started tweeting in June, made a habit of trolling Trump on Twitter. He made his first tweet a rebuke of Trump for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, calling the move a “setback for the U.S.’s leadership position in the world.”
In September, Blankfein took on Trump’s move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program protecting immigrants brought to the United States undocumented as children.
“I wouldn’t deport a kid who was brought here and only knows America,” Blankfein tweeted at the time.
At Davos this week, Blankfein praised Trump’s leadership.
“I’ve really liked what he’s done for the economy, and I think he’s gone out of his way to be very, very supportive of the system. And I don’t want to be antagonistic to them,” Blankfein said.
Wall Street is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Trump’s tax cuts. Its profitability has gone up and it benefits from the U.S. stock market hitting record highs, with many chief executives receiving the bulk of their compensation in stock options.
“You’re making money and it’s not real hard work,” Steve Schwarzman, chief executive of Blackstone, told a panel. Schwarzman was the head of Trump’s business advisory council, which dissolved in August after many so many of the executives on the council pulled out because of Trump’s Charlottesville remarks.
Schwarzman has since hosted a $100,000-a-ticket fundraiser for Trump at his New York City home, and he talked up the tax bill in Davos. “The world is in a good place economically, about as good as it can be,” he said.
There are, however, limits to executives’ evolving views on Trump.
Financier George Soros, a Democrat and a leading funder of liberal causes, was scathing about Trump, calling his administration “a danger to the world” in a speech Thursday night.
“In the United States, President Trump would like to establish a mafia state but he can’t, because the Constitution, other institutions, and a vibrant civil society won’t allow it,” he said, according to prepared remarks.
And not everyone at Davos was convinced that tax cuts and deregulation will be good for the economy in the long run.
BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink, a supporter of Hillary Clinton who was rumored to be on the shortlist to become her treasury secretary, was one of the few in Davos who seemed willing to cast doubt about the Trump administration’s approach.
Fink visibly grimaced when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said 70 percent of the corporate tax cut would benefit worker pay. Fink said investors were the big winners.
“Those who own equity have done fantastically well. It’s been brilliant for me,” Fink told a panel. “It has not been as impactful for so many people.”
He went on to say that the tax cuts and stock market rise are “creating a greater disparity of income” in the United States.
Still, the positive reaction at Davos has surpassed the expectations of Trump allies.
Thursday found Republican House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) standing in the middle of the main conference center in Davos and beaming. He said the reaction from the business community to the tax cuts had been even better than anticipated, and that everyone he met in Davos was very positive about Trump and the GOP agenda.
“Their impression of America is we’re back doing bold things again,” McCarthy said in an interview with The Washington Post. “You might not like his unconventional ways, but it is an effective way,” he said.
While chief executives admit privately that they still have some concerns, hardly anyone at Davos wanted to go on the record with any criticism of the Trump administration, a change from a few months ago, when business leaders put out statements or tweets distancing themselves from Trump’s actions.
Business leaders also seem more confident that Trump won’t do anything to derail the stock market boom and faster-growing economy. The United States has grown above 3 percent for the past two quarters and most forecasters, including the International Monetary Fund, predict a bump in growth in 2018 from the tax bill.
Even those executives who feared their businesses would be put directly at risk by Trump’s policies on trade appear to have regained their equilibrium.
David MacLennan, chief executive of Cargill, an agricultural company based in Minnesota, was dismayed when Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement in his first week in office. His business depends on trade, and he was concerned about a pullout from NAFTA next.
But, so far, trade is up and he is comforted that Trump has not taken drastic action in his first year.
“Stay optimistic. I think the [Trump] administration is fighting for fairness. And things change, they should change, they need to change. That’s the new world,” MacLennan told a panel.