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Trump Talk Dominates Roundtable on Presidential Election at Mackinac

The elephant in the room Friday was how a potential Donald Trump presidency may play out for Americans and the impact on business and communities as the real estate mogul’s campaign shows no signs of slowing. Talk of Trump dominated the discussion, with business, political and congressional leaders weighing in on various topics facing Michigan and the nation in a roundtable discussion with Devin Scillian, anchor for WDIV-TV 4.

Voter Anger Driving Candidate Coverage

Harold Ford Jr., former U.S. Representative and political analyst for MSNBC and CNBC, said unrest and unsettlement across the country continues to shape the national political dialogue.

“Hillary Clinton will have to be at her best if she hopes to beat Donald Trump,” Ford said. “Voters are listening to one set of issues. Every age group is resenting and rebelling against big media and big institutions and they want someone to shake things up.”

Soledad O’Brien, CEO of Starfish Media Group, cautioned that major issues like the nation’s debt and immigration have fallen to the wayside in favor of bitter partisan fighting among candidates. And while some may not agree with Trump’s tone or comments, O’Brien said middle-class voters and millennials admire his arrogance and fearlessness.

“When people hear about issues like the disappearance of the middle class, they are afraid and they are voting based on that—whether on the right or left—and that is problematic,” O’Brien said.

The Trump phenomenon is nothing new, however.

“Voters are saying, ‘we want someone to shake things up.’ We see this every four to eight years among both Democrats and Republicans,” Ford said.

O’Brien and Ford also credit the national media for fueling the tone of this year’s election. Both criticized the “reality show”-style election coverage that they said has led to a “post-truth” world where substance gives way to ratings.

“(Trump) is the media’s golden goose and if you don’t have those golden eggs on your show, unfortunately your show will lose,” Ford said.

On Running Government Like a Business

In responding to a question on Trump’s qualifications to serve as commander-in-chief, John Rakolta Jr., chairman and CEO of Walbridge, said he does not agree with running government like a business.

Rakolta added that he believes the difference between running a business and being an elected official comes down to loyalty for one’s employees versus loyalty to donors, Super PACs and special interest groups.

On the flip side, Dennis Archer Sr., chairman and CEO of Dennis W. Archer PLLC, said he believes that success in business can correlate to success in office, but only if done with genuine intent.

Panelists also said the biggest issues facing the country this election season are education reform and growing the middle class.

How Demographic Changes Will Shape the Election

“Who’s winning the political battle from a consultant’s point of view?” Scillian asked Katie Packer of WWP Strategies and Burning Glass Consulting, and Kelly Rossman-McKinney of Truscott Rossman, two of Michigan’s top political consultants.

While the clear answer seemed to be either Clinton or Trump, Packer credited the voters.

“I think that the voters are really winning in truth. Because the voters in this election have said, ‘We’re done. We’re done with all these institutions and we’re railing against every institution that used to hold up our culture: the media, the government, financial institutions,” Packer said, echoing sentiments from previous Conference keynote speaker, National Journal Senior Political Columnist Ron Fournier.

However, despite the voter anger that seemed to be the catalyst behind Trump’s candidacy in the primary, Packer argued that rapidly changing demographics would make the electoral map difficult for the Republican nominee.

“Where Donald Trump is going to have real challenges is with suburban white women, Latino voters, African-American voters, and with young voters, who sort of reject the racist comments that feel a little too totalitarian for them,” Packer said.

While Democrats have usually been the beneficiary of the country’s demographic shifts, panelists also acknowledged that Clinton faces her own issues with young women, a constituency that was expected to be firm supporters.

Bipartisan Congressional Colleagues Share Perspective from the Capitol, Home Districts

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) made clear that, despite the stereotypical characterizations, supporters of Trump are not just made up of uninformed or uneducated voters.

“I think a lot of people have tried to portray this Trump phenomenon as undereducated folks who are just angry about being economically challenged right now. I hear it from doctors, lawyers and business owners. What I hear from them, and the pattern that I’m seeing, people feel like they have just been shoved further down the ladder from where they had been,” Huizenga said.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) said he notices the voter dissatisfaction in his district as well, but there is a larger responsibility at play for the nation’s civic leaders.

“Recognizing public sentiment is one thing. Helping to channel that public sentiment in a direction that moves the country forward is what our obligation is as public officials and political leaders,” he said.