WASHINGTON — In almost any other election cycle, bankers would be celebrating the fact that a Republican candidate has emerged so far in front of the pack and would quickly fall in line behind him. But this has been anything but a normal election cycle, and there are a whole host of reasons that bankers will be at least as reluctant to embrace the outspoken businessman Donald Trump as the Republican establishment has been. Here's why:
1. Trump is not committed to regulatory relief, Dodd-Frank repeal — or any other bank priority.
While most of the Republican candidates in the race have avoided discussing Wall Street reform or the financial crisis, almost every one at some point endorsed a repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act and pledged regulatory relief for community banks. (Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was the first, doing so during the initial Republican debate in August.) Trump, in contrast, has said almost nothing about Dodd-Frank beyond describing it as a "terrible law."
In an interview last year with The Hill, Trump vaguely endorsed repealing the law, but he has also said "there are aspects of it you could leave." And he hasn't called for regulatory relief for smaller institutions — a position that even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, has espoused. If bankers are looking for someone to implement their agenda, there's scant evidence to suggest Trump would do so.
"One of the worst things for the financial industry is uncertainty. And with Donald Trump, there is tons of uncertainty regarding his economic plan," said Jaret Seiberg, an analyst with Guggenheim Securities. "We just don't know what his views are."
2. When in doubt, Trump goes populist — and that would inevitably be bad for bankers.
Throughout the race, Trump has embraced populist positions, even when that meant touting unrealistic and discriminatory plans, like the border wall and deportation. He revels in picking bogeymen — lots of them. In this election cycle alone, Trump has gone after Mexicans, Muslims, journalists, Apple and Nabisco (the maker of Oreos). How long before he goes after banks?
While Trump has steered clear of anti-Wall Street rhetoric so far, in a race against Clinton, he's likely to drift in that direction. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., has shown how vulnerable Clinton is on Wall Street issues, and in a general election Trump is almost certain to use that to his advantage.
While breaking up the big banks may be a bridge too far, Wall Street remains deeply unpopular with the public. Many remain angry about the bailouts — and Trump has proven a master at tapping into public anger. Whatever his personal views might be about banks, it's an easy card to play against Clinton.
"The rhetoric against Clinton will be very heated — it will be very anti-Wall Street," said Brian Gardner, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. "He's never going to get to the level of Sanders, but he runs an anti-establishment campaign. He will paint her as the ultimate insider with the titans of Wall Street and the people who brought you the financial crisis."
3. Trump pursues vendettas — you want him overseeing the SEC or CFPB?
Whether as a candidate or president, Trump is unlikely to deal well with any banker opposition to his plans (whatever they end up being). Throughout his career, Trump has shown a willingness to mock, belittle and embarrass his opponents and critics (including bankers) and there's no reason to assume he would cease doing so if he won the White House. He has even called for rewriting libel laws so the government could more easily pursue actions against journalists.
That could leave bankers in a challenging situation if Trump pursues anti-bank policies. Those who dare to speak out against him (and, for that matter, those who cover them) risk being publicly and personally attacked — if not subjected to vindictive, selective enforcement actions.
Many bankers already privately admit that they dislike Trump, viewing him as a dangerous demagogue who doesn't believe in true conservative principles, but do not wish to say so on the record for fear of drawing his ire. If bankers end up going against a Trump administration, they could find themselves in a no-win scenario.
"Trump has deep insecurities that show when he responds to criticism," Gardner said. "He doesn't take it well. He's thin-skinned."
4. Trump on the ticket could lose Republicans the Senate — and even possibly the House
President Obama was able to pass the Dodd-Frank Act only because his party controlled the House and Senate. Trump as the Republican nominee threatens to recreate the same conditions for a President Hillary Clinton.
At the very least, political analysts agree that Trump's presence on the ballot would significantly boost Democratic turnout nationwide and put vulnerable Senate Republicans in jeopardy. The Democrats need to pick up just four Senate seats to retake control of the chamber — and most of the vulnerable incumbents are Republicans. In Roll Call's pick of the top 10 "most vulnerable" senators, nine were GOP members.
Even without Trump on the ticket, keeping the Senate may prove impossible for Republicans. But with him there, the odds of retaining it — and banks' ability to make significant changes to Dodd-Frank or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — go down.
"Trump puts those moderate Republicans that need to get re-elected in real jeopardy," Seiberg said. "While he's energizing the base of the Republican party, he's also scaring the bejesus out of Democrats who are likely to turn out in droves."
It would take far more for Democrats to recapture the House, given the GOP's current 246-188 majority. But in this surreal election year it seems nothing is out of the question.
"If Trump just starts totally melting down, you start putting more seats in play," Gardner said. "Maybe he does take the House down with him."
Rob Blackwell is the Washington bureau chief of American Banker. The views expressed are his own.