The surprise emergence of a billionaire real estate developer who has proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States as the front runner to become Republican nominee for president is one of the hot topics of conversation among the rich and powerful at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
While calling Donald Trump “unbelievable”, “embarrassing” or even “dangerous”, business executives and finance leaders said he had nevertheless “hit a vein” with his direct talk. Here are some of the comments about Donald Trump heard this week at the annual gathering:
Rodrigo Valdes, finance minister of Chile, on rhetoric in the U.S. Presidential election:
“Clearly it is not a rhetoric that is inviting for integration. In Chile we have a deep view that integration of the Americas is a good thing, whether it is goods, financing and yes people. So I’d be happier with a more welcoming rhetoric. It is uncontroversial to say that integration of markets, of trade is a good thing and this rhetoric does not help that.”
Sandeep Dadlani, executive vice president of Indian outsourcing firm Infosys:
“Infosys has been getting the majority of its revenues from the US market for over 30 years and we have seen many elections come and go. It is common in all election seasons for rhetoric and extreme personalities to shine. Inevitably we have found governments from both sides to eventually come up with sensible policies.”
Huffington Post news website founder Arianna Huffington:
“I feel the mainstreaming of Donald Trump, instead of him being treated as an extreme, dangerous candidate is really the most troubling aspect of American politics right now.
“He’s being interviewed on all the main shows, and he’s being asked questions about what his first State of the Union address would be like if he wins, instead of actually being forced to answer the tough questions about his policy, especially his policy of wanting to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., which is so dangerous, so un-American and should really be the center of the coverage of Trump.
“We (at Huffington Post) first covered him as entertainment, as a sort of buffoonish figure. But the day he announced that policy we switched to cover him as a clear and present danger to the American political system and to America and its values.
“I think the GOP (Republican party) is in real trouble if he becomes the lead candidate. But there’s a long way between now and the nominating convention.”
Dominic Barton, global managing director for business consultancy McKinsey:
“This is a political campaign that’s become entertainment. I almost feel like anything you ask, Trump will have some radically different view. If I were to say it takes 9 months to make a baby, he could say ‘that’s crap, it should take 3’ or something.”
“It’s a bit embarrassing globally. But I think there’s a big difference between the rhetoric and the reality, and I think most people will see that and discount it. But it’s incredible how long its been going for. It’s just unbelievable.”
Ray Nolte, chief investment officer, Skybridge Capital, a $13 billion hedge fund:
“Is Donald going to be the nominee? I don’t know. It’s sure looking that way now.
“The takeaway from here, is that anyone here who is in the mainstream say there is no way he could possibly get the nomination. When I hear that, it probably means it is going to happen.
“Among the historic party elites, none of them can believe what is going on. If you had gone into the campaigns, a Bush campaign and Rubio campaign, they were saying: ‘We don’t need to pay attention to Trump. The guy is a buffon, he is a clown, he will blow himself up’. This was back 6/7 months ago, that was the narrative.”
John McFarlane, chairman of Barclays:
“You have an election in the US that has taken a rather strange turn.”
“Is Trump going to get the nomination? People would argue No but then … he is very popular.”
Eric Cantor, former Republican majority leader in U.S. House of Representatives, now vice-chairman of Moelis & Co, an investment bank:
“He’s not serious. He’s amazing at promoting his personal brand and reflecting an underlying anger at home that is connected to a slow-growth economy where wage stagnation is real.
“But Trump Fever is an unsustainable phenomenon that will not translate into a victory for the candidate.”
Rob Torres, managing director of Google Travel:
“I think the majority of folks underestimate the Trump power right now.”
“If for some reason he is elected into office, hopefully he will be smart enough to surround himself with folks who have experience in government.”
Stephen Schwarzman, chief executive of private equity group Blackstone, told CNBC’s Squawkbox that if the Republican presidential race came down to Trump versus Ted Cruz, a U.S. Senator from Texas also seen as representing the right wing of the Republican Party, he would go with his fellow billionaire.
“If I had to do one, I would do Donald,” he said.
Noting the rise of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders as a challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party’s nomination, he said:
“The question is, what is everyone protesting about?… What’s needed actually is a cohesive, healing presidency, not one that’s lurching either to the right or to the left.”
Mark Weinberger, global chairman and chief executive of consultancy EY:
“I think Donald trump clearly has hit a vein of the American people in straight talk, candor, and saying clearly what he’s going to do.
“When you get to the second and third questions on some of the policies he’s raising, I think people are going to have to look a lot more at it and understand it before they pull a curtain and they’re actually gonna vote for someone who’s anti establishment.”
(Reporting by Martinne Geller, Carmel Crimmins, Noah Barkin and others; Editing by Peter Graff)