He’s not taking the news well.
Kenneth Frazier of Merck was the first to go, issuing a statement yesterday emphasizing that “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hate, bigotry, and group supremacy…” He was unhappy with Trump’s response on Saturday after the car attack in Charlottesville so he walked away and got the full Trump treatment on Twitter, as you see above, for his trouble. (That backfired on Trump when critics noted how much more animated he sounded in criticizing Frazier than he did in criticizing the “many sides” responsible for the violence in Charlottesville.) There was strategy in Trump’s flaming of Frazier, though: By making Merck a target, he implicitly warned other CEOs on the manufacturing council that they might become targets too if they followed Frazier’s lead.
And it worked. For a few hours.
A few big-name corporate leaders released innocuous statements over the weekend condemning the violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville. But with the exception of Mr. Frazier, none appear to have directly condemned the president’s choice of words, which have been a lightning rod for Americans from many quarters, even among many Republican lawmakers and Trump supporters…
Privately, many chief executives say they are fuming, outraged by the president. (This after many of them campaigned to get on Mr. Trump’s committees.) But many are too scared to say anything publicly that could make them or their company a target of Mr. Trump’s wrath…
When I asked one chief executive Monday morning why he had remained publicly silent, he told me: “Just look at what he did to Ken. I’m not sticking my head up.” Which, of course, is the reason he said I could not quote him by name.
Would Frazier end up being the only one who walked or would other CEOs risk Trump’s wrath? Yesterday afternoon Kevin Plank of Under Armour became the second member to quit — but worded his statement of resignation carefully, to avoid direct criticism of Trump. Key line: “Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics.” Later a third CEO, Brian Krzanich of Intel, resigned. His statement also refrained from directly accusing Trump of any leadership failures but he went further than Plank did:
I have already made clear my abhorrence at the recent hate-spawned violence in Charlottesville, and earlier today I called on all leaders to condemn the white supremacists and their ilk who marched and committed violence. I resigned because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them. We should honor – not attack – those who have stood up for equality and other cherished American values. I hope this will change, and I remain willing to serve when it does.I am not a politician.
Just within the last few hours, Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing dropped out. His was the tersest statement yet:
I'm resigning from the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative because it's the right thing for me to do.
— Scott (Wear a mask, save a life) Paul (@ScottPaulAAM) August 15, 2017
Trump, as I say, isn’t taking it well:
The manufacturing council just got 10 feet taller.
How many more will walk? There’s strength in numbers for the boycotters: Frazier risked becoming a Trump scapegoat when he was out on the limb himself, but as more CEOs leave the council, it gets harder for Trump to single any one of them out. It also gets harder for CEOs who haven’t quit to justify staying. With Frazier et al. framing the matter as one of conscience, the remaining members will come under pressure from the left to show solidarity by resigning as well. Filling vacancies may not be as easy as Trump thinks. (Here’s a list of the 20 remaining members. Elon Musk already quit awhile back over Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate-change accord.) It’s amazing how little business leaders fear right-wing boycotts in turning their backs on Trump this way. They may lean left in their personal politics but if the right was organized the way liberals were in driving Bill O’Reilly’s advertisers away from Fox, CEOs like Frazier would think carefully before snubbing a Republican president so ostentatiously. As it is, there’s little penalty in doing so apart from a few grumbly Trump tweets. That’s why we’re up to four resignations and counting.