Billionaire Financier David Rubenstein Doesn’t Think This Is The End For Trump

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Ten days after the 2020 presidential election, President Trump has still not conceded and daily Covid-19 cases have reached a daily record high of 145,000. In the midst of a national crisis and transition, David Rubenstein—a billionaire philanthropist and cofounder of the Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms—spoke with Forbes about the Biden win, what’s next for Trump and what the priority should be to mitigate the effects of the pandemic in the U.S.

“Anybody running for reelection as president of the United States in a pandemic would have had problems,” Rubenstein says of Trump, whose pandemic response was heavily criticized in the months leading up to the election. “Despite the pandemic, despite the economic decline, despite the impeachment, despite the tax issues, despite the Mueller investigation, Trump actually did incredibly well. He has a very hardcore base.” As of November 12, Trump has received 72.1 million votes, the most votes an incumbent president has ever received. Biden, meanwhile, has received 77.2 million votes, the highest number achieved by any presidential candidate in U.S. history, according to the Associated Press

The country’s biggest obstacle is overcoming the pandemic, which has been a public health crisis as well as an economic one, according to Rubenstein. “Until the pandemic is behind us, whoever is president will have to have an economy weaker than it should be,” he says, arguing that at least one stimulus bill is much needed. Rubenstein hopes for a bill during the lame-duck session before Biden takes office, but thinks Biden’s first move once in the White House will be a more expansive stimulus bill. (When asked how it will be funded: “We will just print money and borrow it. You can’t do it forever [but] that’s what we’re gonna do.”) Yet the investor cautions against depending on stimulus for long-term relief. As long as a vaccine is not widely available, the economy will struggle, he says. 

Rubenstein also expects Biden to focus on healthcare legislation and other initiatives to address income inequality, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Nearly 50 million Americans filed a claim for unemployment benefits during the 15 weeks from mid-March to the end of June, according to a report by The Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit focused on healthcare. The number of unemployed people in the U.S. fell to 11.1 million in October, bringing the unemployment rate down to 6.9% (from 14.7% at its worst, in April). The potential grows that new lockdowns will be implemented across the country.

“A lot of very wealthy people got wealthy or wealthier during his presidency, and some of them will probably want to do business with him.” 

When Biden takes over the Oval Office, Rubenstein doesn’t expect Trump to do what former presidents have traditionally done: retire. “[Trump]’s got a business he’s going to go back to and I assume, if you’ve been a former president of the United States, you’ve made some friends, and I suspect you’ll be able to do business with those friends,” he says. “A lot of very wealthy people got wealthy or wealthier during his presidency, and some of them will probably want to do business with him.” 

Since Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, Rubenstein’s net worth has risen by $840 million to $3.3 billion, Forbes estimates, mostly due to a nearly 64% increase of Carlyle’s stock price. Rubenstein is one of 406 American billionaires whose fortunes have increased—by a total of $1.16 trillion—since January 20, 2017. But Rubenstein says he won’t be among those doing business with the soon-to-be former president. His reason? The private equity billionaire says he neither plays golf nor is interested in the hotel business, although Carlyle has invested in hotels before.

During Trump’s presidency, multiple news outlets, including Forbes, raised flags about Trump’s potential conflicts of interest, including having Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and the Qatari sovereign fund as tenants in commercial buildings where the Trump Organization owns a stake. In the past four years, businesspeople around the world were reportedly trying to rub shoulders with Trump at his golf courses and private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. 

Trump, meanwhile, has gotten poorer while in Washington. Forbes found that his fortune has fallen by an estimated $1 billion since he took office, though new business deals and the opportunity to hit the book and speaking circuit, or become a media star once again, means that losing the election might actually be better for Trump financially.

“The best job in the world is not being the president of the United States, it’s being a former president of the United States,” Rubenstein says. “Nobody hates you as much, and you can do pretty much what you want.”

Not that he thinks Trump will end up content to be an ex-commander-in-chief. Says Rubenstein: “Donald Trump is different than any other former president we will have had at least in a century. He will have a realistic chance if he wants to run for president again [in 4 years]. I think he does have a reservoir of support throughout the country.”