The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Warren Buffett talks politics (and jabs at Donald Trump)

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett speaks with retired Fortune writer and editor Carol Loomis at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit Oct. 13, 2015. Photograph by Stuart Isett/Fortune Most Powerful Women

The setting may have been Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit, but there is one man who is always welcome on the stage: Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett. The veteran investor sat down with retired Fortune writer Carol Loomis at the annual power confab Tuesday morning in Washington, sounding off on everything from activist investors to his own retirement to the presidential campaign.

Just hours before the first Democratic debate—and as the wait continued for whether or not Vice President Joe Biden would join the race—Buffett said he still thinks that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and that she stands the best chance of becoming president. "The Democrats are most likely to win if they get turn-out," Buffett said. "In 2012 they did a much better job than they had historically in bringing out their base."

Buffett also offered his view of what was happening in the Republican race—and American democracy at large.

"We've always thought in terms of a two-party government," he said, speaking of the growing divide between establishment Republicans and the party's more far-right wing. "We now really have a three-party government. There is a distinct party now within the Republican party.  ... That's not something we've come to grips with in this country."

The sage of Omaha wouldn't wager a prediction of where it would all go, but said "you're witnessing a quiet revolution in terms of how America will be governed," adding that it's not something he'd want to be a part of. "It's a great spectator sport. I wouldn't want to be a participant."

While Buffett had little to say about specific Republican candidates, he did throw a jab Donald Trump's way. "Make America Great Again? America's great now," he said, referencing Trump's slogan. He noted the growth in U.S. GDP and that "the world is changing all the time for the better."

Buffett spoke at length on his recent acquisition of Precision Castparts, the challenges of knowing when it's time to say goodbye to managers who aren't working out ("I always do it too late, I procrastinate"), and the rise of activist investors. He said that while they play an important role, many are also looking for a short-term bounce as the amount of money available for investment continues to rise.

Activist investors, he said, "are like sharks, they've got to keep swimming." His own appetite for joining with the activists? "Well, it's zero. I'm not looking for that kind of trouble."

Of course, the long-running discussion about retirement—Buffett is 85—also came up. "It'd be crazy for me to leave my job if I can do it," he said, joking about retired people he knows who "spend a whole week planning their haircut. That's not my idea of living."

Buffett got one of his biggest laughs when he talked about why it's important to choose a job you'd still want to do if you didn't need the money. "I would rather do this than anything in the world. My Social Security check is coming every month. I do not need this," he said, adding: "I tap dance to work." 

Read also:

The leadership wisdom of Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett has served nearly 40 years longer than the average CEO

Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.