The CEO race to leave Donald Trump

Trump added insult to injury on Monday morning by attacking Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier on Twitter.

Mark Ballard
Mark Ballard

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier's departure from President Donald Trump’s manufacturing council will be remembered as a very big domino in the inevitable downfall of the Trump administration.

In his statement of resignation, Frazier, one of America's most prominent African-American CEOs, explained, "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy" -- a seemingly simple statement that any decent American would agree with.

But with the nation still recoiling in horror at Trump's baffling "many sides" condemnation of those rallying against white supremacy, Trump added insult to injury on Monday morning by attacking Frazier on Twitter, drawing even more attention to his own failure in leadership, and to Frazier's departure.

Without question, every other CEO on Trump's manufacturing council is meeting with his or her advisers and PR counsel to talk about following Frazier out the door, and it's essentially a race: the first CEOs to follow Frazier will win headlines and will look like leaders, scoring points with the vast majority of Americans who despise white supremacy. However, the CEOs who lag behind will earn very little credit, and may even face the question of, "What took you so long?"

Update: Three other executives have since departed the manufacturing council: Under Armour’s Kevin Plank, Intel’s Brian Krzanich, and American Association of Manufacturers president Scott Paul.

From a PR standpoint, there's no fixing Trump's problem with Charlottesville, Virginia. Too much time has passed since the tragedy, and too many weak statements have come from the White House. Any worthwhile condemnation from Trump at this point will be rightly seen as disingenuous damage control. Furthermore, Trump and his advisors have their own very checkered histories with respect to race, and that only adds to the suspicion about their true motivations and feelings.

What is clear is that the problems for Trump are only going to mount. Trump, his family, and his advisers are in the crosshairs of a special counsel investigation into both his business dealings and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Along with Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigation, other presidential challenges exist including North Korea and healthcare, where the president is also failing.

Furthermore, Trump has also shown that he does not have the temperament for the job of president. Monday’s impulsive and insulting tweet about Frazier was only the latest example. So as these stresses increase, Trump will surely become even more unhinged and angry. And while we can't know what other unforced errors and cringe-inducing statements lie ahead, we do know from history that more await.

Following Frazier's lead, more CEOs and businesses will surely abandon Trump in the days and weeks ahead. But as was the case for Trump in Charlottesville, the clock is ticking, and Americans are waiting and watching. The Trump ship is sinking. For the remaining CEOs on Trump's manufacturing council, it's time to find a lifeboat.

Mark Ballard is SVP and GM for Harmonica in New York.

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