Top CEOs opposed Trump’s 2020 election lies. Now some are softening toward him

(WASHINGTON) — When then-President Donald Trump falsely declared victory days after Election Night in 2020, dozens of CEOs at the nation’s top companies assembled on a Zoom call to prevent what they feared could be the end of democracy in the U.S.

As Trump stands poised to win the Republican nomination in the 2024 contest, however, some prominent chief executives appear to have softened their stance toward him.

Rattling off Trump’s policies on topics ranging from the economy to China, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told CNBC earlier this month that Trump “wasn’t wrong about some of these critical issues.” Dimon did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Former company executives and advocacy group leaders expressed concern to ABC News about the posture toward Trump taken up by prominent CEOs in recent weeks, saying the executives appear to be prioritizing the short-term interests of their companies over the long-term health of the nation’s democracy and, in turn, a stable free market economy.

In private, many CEOs acknowledge that Trump poses a threat to democracy, but they likely remain reluctant to weigh in out of fear for an appearance of partisanship or even backlash from Trump should he become president, some of the former executives and advocacy group leaders said.

“CEOs are hedging their bets,” Tom Rogers, the founder of CNBC and an attendee at the Zoom call in November 2020, told ABC News.

“People think being on the wrong side of Trump was a bad move for individual companies. People may fear that if he is unleashed in a second term, his willingness to take on individual companies could be even more extreme,” Rogers added.

As another presidential election nears, Trump continues to deny the outcome of the previous election and vows to vigorously fight scores of felony charges, including allegations in two separate indictments of an illegal attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election outcome.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has denied wrongdoing in response to all related allegations.

In recent weeks, a series of high-profile CEOs have spoken confidently about the prospects for their businesses or the country under Trump.

“The reality is, hey, we are the same company, regardless of when that election is going to occur. And regardless of who that president will be,” Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff told Bloomberg earlier this month.

Also speaking this month, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman told Bloomberg, “I believe America is going to be fine no matter what happens in this election.”

Benioff did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment. Neither did Altman.

Tom Glocer, the former CEO of Thomson Reuters, who also attended the November 2020 Zoom meeting, said some of the public comments from CEOs suggest that they’re “backing away.”

“It worries me,” Glocer told ABC News, citing what he considers Trump’s politicization of the judicial system and denial of the 2020 election.

“That’s bad for U.S. business,” he added.

Last year, a rating agency downgraded U.S. credit for the second time in the nation’s history. Fitch Ratings cited the ballooning U.S. debt load and a weakening of governance, as well as the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, as considerations in their decision.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who convened the November 2020 conference call with top CEOs, rebuked the notion that the recent remarks from chief executives about Trump suggest a shift in their posture. “None whatsoever,” Sonnenfeld told ABC News.

Business leaders do not consider it their role to weigh in on partisan issues, Sonnenfeld added, saying their willingness to defend democracy in 2020 aligns with the views expressed in recent weeks.

The former executives and advocates have also warned about overstating the alarm.

“We shouldn’t take it as the overarching or final perspective from the business community,” said Daniella Ballou-Aares, CEO and co-founder of the Leadership Now Project, a membership organization made up of business leaders concerned about the future of U.S. democracy.

Business leaders have spearheaded efforts to safeguard democracy in swing states where the election will likely be decided, Ballou-Aares added. Last week, for example, nearly 70 business leaders in Ohio signed a public letter aiming to remove politicians from the redistricting process.

Elizabeth Doty, the director of the Erb Institute’s Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce at the University of Michigan, echoed this view.

“We’ll see fewer dramatic statements but more quiet commitments,” Doty told ABC News.

For his part, Glocer said worried onlookers risk overstating the importance of statements from CEOs. Their capacity to influence public sentiment, Glocer added, pales in comparison to that of a pop superstar like Taylor Swift.

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