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Ordinarily, this would be a good time during a presidential election cycle to do what we call a “side by side.” With a month to go in a normal campaign, voters have been given enough information to get a good sense of where the candidates stand on the issues important to them and, by now, business leaders should have a fairly clear picture of the impact both candidates could potentially have on their organizations and business models. But, as the saying goes, this is no ordinary time.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are busily laying out their positions on the issues — some in detail, some vague — and within the last several months, both have had to modify their positions at least once. This is called “clarifying” in campaign speak.
For the issues affecting convenience store operators, some are crystal-clear and some are clear as mud. Also, it is important to note that issue positions designed to get a candidate across the line in November often appear different the following January when something called “governing” begins. But here’s what we think we know:
Affordable Care Act
Trump says he will ask Congress to immediately repeal Obamacare on the first day of his administration. He plans to work with lawmakers to “implement reforms that follow free market principles.” What are those exactly? He has not said and it is entirely possible he does not know. His only definitive proposal on health care to date is allowing people to buy insurance across state lines. Hardly visionary. Clinton’s No. 1 health care goal is to “defend and expand” the Affordable Care Act, but ease the burden on small businesses. She has not been clear on how she expects to accomplish this in a Republican-controlled Congress. Hardly surprising.
Here is a story of two flip-floppers. Clinton does not make her position on this simple to decipher. On the one hand, she repeatedly pledges support for the Fight for $15 movement and says she would sign a federal bill that gradually raises the wage floor to $15 (in different parts of the country). Yet Clinton and her campaign website have said she prefers a $12 federal minimum wage as a floor. My guess is she can freely advocate for $15 an hour if elected, knowing it would never get through the House. Trump was against it before he was for it, and then against it and so on — like following the ball in a tennis match. As of Aug. 1, his campaign says Trump supports raising the federal minimum wage to $10 and he thinks states should set any minimum beyond that. But with weeks to go, he is due for at least two more “clarifications.”
Trump has not committed to a proposal on this issue. Case closed? Not quite. His daughter Ivanka floored conservatives during the Republican National Convention by saying her father “will change the labor laws” and support equal pay and paid family leave. Unless Trump intends to turn the country over to his daughter, the candidate’s lack of a stated proposal and previous comments like, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job,” show a lack of interest in changing labor laws. If there is any labor-related issue he actually takes an interest in as president, I think it may be this one. Clinton is on the record since her years in the Senate supporting a new equal pay law, particularly for women. She introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act as a senator to promote pay transparency and give women tools to fight discrimination in the workforce. This qualifies as “crystal-clear.”
Paid Family & Medical Leave
Clinton wants to guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, and to ensure Americans get at least two-thirds of their pay (up to a specified amount) while on leave. She expects wealthy people to pay into a fund (at no cost to businesses, she says) in order to afford the plan. We call that taxing the rich. Trump’s only significant statement on this is remarking: “We have to keep our country competitive, so you have to be careful of it.” If Trump has a measured tone for rejecting something, that is probably it.
This is the second easiest issue to predict for Trump because he has never wavered from the populist viewpoint. “Free trade” is practically blasphemy to this candidate and his base. Ronald Reagan must be turning over in his grave. Trump slams NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. He pledges to rip up old deals and introduce tough trade measures, especially against China. As for Clinton, she flipped her position on TPP once she became a presidential candidate. She is trying to appeal to the Bernie Sanders coalition with a promise to stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages in America. Those same progressives protested Clinton for supporting TPP as Secretary of State. This qualifies as clear as mud.
Easiest comparison of them all. Two words for Trump: wall and ban. That sums up his policy. Build a wall to stop immigration from Mexico and ban Muslims. (Let me clarify — Reagan must be spinning in his grave.) Although lately Trump has loosened the ban slightly, saying there will be strict verifications for Muslims based on their beliefs. Most notably for Clinton, she plans to introduce comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to full and equal citizenship within her first 100 days.
Trump has proposed a slash and spend policy — large tax cuts across the board with proposals to reduce spending. Since no Congress, regardless of party control, ever reduces spending, economists rightly expect a significant increase in the deficit. Clinton has proposed higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Borrow and spend vs. tax and spend. Take your pick.
Hypothetically, if Clinton wins by six to eight points or more, it probably means the Republicans have lost the Senate but, in all likelihood, held their House majority by a slim margin. If that is the case, Speaker Paul Ryan will be the lone Republican leader left standing and will be under tremendous pressure to cut deals on progressive priorities including wage and benefit proposals impacting convenience store business models.
Expect White House policy to look a lot like a third Obama Administration: left-of-center proposals, uphill battles in Congress, but significant leveraging of the executive and judicial branches to achieve their desired outcomes.
If, however, Trump wins, it almost certainly means Republicans kept their Senate and House majorities. That should give c-store operators some level of protection since Trump consistently demonstrates no real policy initiatives or agenda, especially with regard to issues impacting the profit and loss statements of retailers. His most recent wavering on immigration (once, his most hardened position to deport millions of people) proves, without a doubt, he has no fidelity to ANY policy. The “governing” of the nation in terms of a domestic economic agenda would be left to Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. While Trump is off speechifying, tweeting and “being Trump,” the hard work will be done by the traditional workhorse — a favorable Congress that Trump will let have its way so that he does not have to be bothered with the nitty gritty.
As such, operators will probably have very few legislative and regulatory threats to worry about from a Trump administration. Their only exposure will be when undisciplined, random and often irresponsible statements or tweets send international allies running for cover, making world markets panic. We’re in for a whole different kind of ride then.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.