Business Leaders Face #NeverTrump Peer Pressure

Donald Trump RNC smiles FBN

This is destined to be the first presidential election to be determined, not by which candidate voters like, but by which candidate voters hate. It’s not a question of who you support, but whether you’re a #NeverTrump or #NeverHillary fan. While strange, that’s not the strangest aspect of this election cycle.

For the first time I can remember – and I’ve been around longer than I’m willing to admit – corporate executives and business leaders are openly displaying their utter contempt for the candidate they love to hate.

All good intentions notwithstanding, I’m way too cynical to believe there’s not a smidgen of peer pressure, approval-seeking, grand-standing and disingenuous self-promotion going on here, especially among the anti-Trump crowd. In some circles, you’re almost an outcast if you don’t openly declare your hatred for Donald Trump.

From my purview here on the far left coast, business leaders are generally reluctant to show open disdain for the Democratic candidate, lest they be labeled a card-carrying member of what Hillary Clinton calls “the basket of deplorables,” meaning Trump supporters who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

It should come as no surprise that few CEOs are willing to risk losing customers by being branded a [fill in the blank]-ist or -ic in these politically correct times. While the Republican nominee has plenty of executives in his basket of deplorables, only a handful – Carl Icahn, T. Boone Pickens and Peter Thiel, to name a few – are rich and powerful enough to admit it.

It’s telling that, in a recent TV interview, noted tech journalist Kara Swisher came right and said that everybody she talks to – and she knows pretty much everyone who’s anyone in Silicon Valley – is against Trump. Except Thiel, that is. Now you know why the examples I’m about to serve up are all #NeverTrumps. It isn’t me.

Citing Trump’s immigration reform policy – notably the wall he’s promised to build between the U.S. and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants and drug traffickers out –  Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz said he feels “compelled” to pledge $20 million in an effort to defeat the Republican nominee. He apparently likes inclusiveness … as long as it doesn’t include Trump.

Serial entrepreneur Amit Kumar actually launched a #NeverTrump voting app that determines which of your contacts are in battleground states and automatically sends them messages reminding your buddies to get out and vote on election day.

Why did he do it? Kumar considers Trump an “existential threat” to immigrants like he and his wife. Never mind that they both became U.S. citizens the legal way, which Trump supports. Wonder if all the PR his startup Trimian is getting from promoting the app has anything to do with it. Nah.

Back in July, 145 tech elites came out against Trump’s candidacy in an open letter that made no mention of Clinton whatsoever. Again, they seemed motivated primarily by Trump’s stance on immigration and non-PC rhetoric. Never mind Silicon Valley’s well-documented white-maleness and age discrimination issues. Hypocrisy at its best.

One venture capital firm, CRV or formerly Charles River Ventures, has apparently taken this to extreme, adding a bright red overlay to their homepage with F-Trump in bold white letters, although they were more explicit about it. While that may seem remarkably low brow for a VC firm, there might be more to it than you think.

The VC game has become highly competitive and it isn’t easy for a relatively small, early-stage firm like CRV to get attention and gain access to hot opportunities. A particular issue is that the firm is based in Cambridge, Mass., while the vast majority of highly coveted deals are on the opposite coast.

Two years ago, the company made a strategic move to rebrand as CRV – presumably, as I would guess, to hide the Charles River reference and promote its Silicon Valley branch, even though it has just four partners there. The firm also appears to be trying to make a name for itself as an immigrant-friendly investor. Aha.

In a recent TV interview, general partner George Zachary said that half the firm’s portfolio companies are founded by immigrants. He also said that they came up with the idea for F-Trump during a strategy meeting. Funny how this PR campaign just happens to align perfectly with their rebranding effort. Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidences.

Look. America’s immigration system has been broken for decades. Trump’s policy deals with national security, illegal drug trade and resolving the problem of millions of undocumented workers in low-paying jobs. As I see it, that has nothing to do with what all these business leaders seem to be up in arms about. But then, looks can be deceiving.

Is it possible that smart CEOs and VCs can’t tell the difference between legal and illegal immigration? Doubtful. Much of this anti-Trump rhetoric, in my opinion, is a load of disingenuous nonsense. It’s duplicitous and hypocritical. It’s more hateful and divisive than anything Trump has said. These people shouldn’t be looking at Trump. They should be looking in the mirror.