Donald Trump was elected president promising to use his business-world experience and negotiating skills to help boost the American economy. Now that he’s about to take office, a lot of people hope he’ll leave the business world behind.
Two-thirds of those responding to a Bloomberg News poll said they think Trump needs to choose between being president and being a businessman, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“They want him to be president, and they want that to be a full-time job,” says Ann Selzer, who carried out the survey, which was conducted Dec. 2-5.
“He’s running the country. That should be first, second, third and fourth priority,” says Christian Duval-Phelps, an unemployed upstate New Yorker who says he supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary but didn’t vote last month.
Since winning the election, Trump has faced numerous questions about the conflicts of interest posed by his vast business interests.
He first promised to play no role in the running of the companies, saying he would leave day-to-day operations up to three of his grown children. More recently he has vowed to separate himself from the operations altogether, although it’s not clear what that means.
Ethics experts have said the cleanest way for Trump to extricate himself from the conflicts would be to sell off his businesses and put the proceeds in some kind of neutral assets such as Treasury bills.
But some 69 percent of those responding to the Bloomberg survey say forcing Trump to sell off his business holdings “goes too far,” Selzer says. Twenty-six percent want him to sell his businesses.
But in a potential warning sign for the president-elect, only a slight majority of Americans are confident Trump will put the country’s interests ahead of his own when dealing with foreign leaders. Forty-seven percent say they’re mostly or very skeptical he will do the right thing.
“There’s no doubt in my mind this is treacherous territory for Donald Trump,” says Larry Jacobs, professor of political science at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
Americans aren’t paying a lot of attention to Trump’s conflicts right now, but that could quickly change if he or his family is seen to benefit financially from the presidency.
“Americans care about corruption and conflict of interest when they see it,” Jacobs says. “As an abstract matter it doesn’t usually rise to the top of the agenda. They’ve got so many other things they’re thinking about.”
“While Americans, I think, are giving him the benefit of the doubt at this moment, before he’s inaugurated, once he’s sworn in and he’s in the White House, I think there’s going to be more scrutiny,” Jacobs says.