Small-Business Owners Give Clinton and Trump Poor Marks in Final Debate

October 20, 2016, 6:51 PM UTC
Campaign 2016 Debate
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump debates Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (Mark Ralston/Pool via AP)
Photo by Mark Ralston—AP

Smallbusiness owners and entrepreneurs, like much of the U.S. electorate, are glad the final presidential debate is over but hardly enthused about their options.

For them, this has been a long, sordid election cycle that has offered too little detail on issues such as health care, taxes, immigration, and growing the economy. And for those watching, Wednesday’s contest between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and real estate billionaire Donald Trump at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, broke no new ground.

Here’s a sampling of what smallbusiness owners from across the political spectrum said in the wake of the third and final round of debates.

1. ‘It’s a hold-your-nose-and-vote election.’

Mark Aselstine is a registered independent who plans to vote for Clinton. He considered voting for Libertarian party candidate Gary Johnson, but the candidate’s lack of foreign policy knowledge was a turnoff.

“Generally, nothing much changed,” he says. “It’s pretty much a hold-your-nose-and-vote election.”

Having grown up in San Diego near the Mexican border, he says he wanted to hear substantial ideas about fixing immigration, such as a program that would allow immigrants to obtain founders’ visas, or letting states and municipalities set their own quotas on immigration. While he generally supports Clinton’s plan to invest in infrastructure, he has concerns.

“I worry [when] the government picks winners and losers for infrastructure and they’re picking about 30 years behind the time,” he says.

Aselstine is founder and chief executive of Uncorked Ventures, an online wine subscription retailer based in El Cerrito, California. The company has three full-time employees and less than $1 million in sales.

2. ‘Clinton was much better prepared.’

A registered Democrat, Mike Brey describes himself as a centrist who was leaning toward Trump earlier this year, but who has grown increasingly troubled by Trump’s bluster and lack of knowledge. Now he’s voting for Clinton.

“Clinton was much better prepared,” he says of the debate, adding he was appalled by Trump’s suggestion he might not accept the results of the election. “She reinforced my idea [that she is] the person with the best temperament to be president.”

While he was bothered by both candidates’ failures to talk specifically about their economic policies, he thinks Clinton has laid out a more detailed fiscal plan for lowering the deficit and salvaging Social Security.

Brey is the president and founder of Brey Corp., which operates Hobby Works, a four-location hobby and toy store based in Laurel, Maryland. The company has 30 full-time employees and $4.6 million in annual revenue.


3. ‘I’m voting for Paul Ryan’

Ryan Cassin, chief executive and founder of the Republican political consultancy Beast Digital in Dallas, Texas, says he plans to write in a vote for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Wednesday’s debate was a disappointment for him. “For the first 30 minutes, it seemed a new Donald Trump had arrived,” he says. “Unfortunately, he lost the debate the moment he couldn’t say he would accept the election results.”

Cassin says neither Clinton nor Trump is doing a good job talking about small-business issues. Clinton fails to take into account the full cost of hiring workers to business owners when she discusses increasing the minimum wage. There’s a minimum cost to employ people, Cassin says, and that includes payroll taxes, health care and other benefits that add to the expense. And Trump is failing to see the bigger picture in thinking “illegal immigration and NAFTA are singlehandedly holding us back as a nation.”

Beast Digital has 10 full-time workers and revenue of $5 million.

4. ‘I will close my eyes, take a deep breath and vote for Trump.”

Elizabeth Falconer is an independent who usually votes Republican, although she favors Democrats on many social issues. For her, this election cycle has been tough to watch.

“All I can really say is thank God there isn’t a fourth debate, or I would be tempted not to vote at all,” she says.

While she feels Clinton’s demeanor in the third debate was more presidential, she thinks Trump’s business acumen and ability to create jobs will be better for the country. A self-professed believer in Reaganomics, she says the economy can’t take four more years with a Democrat as president.

“I will close my eyes, take a deep breath and vote for Trump,” she says.

Falconer is president and founder of model-home furnisher Position by Design, in Fort Worth, Texas. She has three full-time employees and more than $1 million in annual revenue.

5. ‘I’ve never seen a candidate speak in such broad generalities with such little substance’

Jason Feinberg is founder and chief executive of Fctry, a Brooklyn, New York-based manufacturer of political action figures and other novelty toys. A Bernie Sanders supporter and registered Democrat, he plans to vote for Clinton.

“It seems like a one-horse race to me. Trump is a marketer and an entertainer and that’s exactly how he comes across when he speaks,” he says. “I’ve been watching debates since the ‘80s and I’ve never seen a candidate speak in such broad generalities with such little substance.”

The biggest issues for him as a business owner are health insurance, taxes and free trade. As an S-Corp owner who pays the top tax rate on his earnings, he’d like to see corporate taxes go up.

He’s hoping Clinton, if elected, will push for a single-payer option for health care.

“While I’m not mandated to provide insurance for my employees because I have less than 50 of them, I could not compete if I didn’t provide it,” Feinberg says. “As a small business, it’s a huge extra burden to carry as you struggle to make all the ends meet in a competitive landscape.”

Feinberg’s company has 10 employees and annual revenue of $3.5 million

6. ‘I’m undecided.’

Antonia Opiah is the sole proprietor and owner of Un’ruly, a beauty and hair care product site for African American women, with revenue under $250,000 annually. She is based in Paris, a registered independent, and is an undecided voter.

“Clinton knows more about national and international policy than Trump,” Opiah says. “Trump, however, is a good marketer, [and] knows exactly how to speak to his target audience.”

In contrast to Trump’s trickle down economics plan, which favors the wealthy with generous tax cuts, Opiah says she prefers Clinton’s so-called middle out plan, where she’d grow the economy by investing in the middle class, infrastructure projects that require workers, and affordable education. Still, she’s unimpressed with Clinton’s lack of detail on how she might make it easier or less costly for businesses to hire new workers.

She’s also critical of Trump’s views on immigration. “It’s dangerous to assume that the current U.S. talent pool is enough, [and] that we don’t need anyone else to grow or innovate. Closing borders limits our ability to attract ideas and skills.”

Related: Business Owners Share How They Actually Chose Their Health Care Plans

7. ‘I am going to do something that, eight years ago, would have been unthinkable.’

Bryan Pate is a Democrat who switched from the Republican party in 2008 to vote for President Obama. He describes himself as socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and pretty much disgusted with the whole election cycle and the two-party system.

Wednesday’s debate didn’t touch substantively on any issues near to his business, although he questioned Trump’s command of facts around Obamacare. Health care premiums, Trump said, are going up between 70% and 100%. Pate says his premiums will rise a modest 7% for 2017.

Trump’s general lack of maturity makes him a danger to our country, Pate says. “As much as it pains me… I am going to do something that, eight years ago, would have been unthinkable for me and vote for Clinton,” he says.

Pate is the chief executive of ElliptiGo, an elliptical bicycle manufacturer located in Solana Beach, California. The company has 23 employees, and $6 million in annual revenue.

8. ‘This is the first time ever, in all my voting years, that I am not confident in my decision.’

Terry Shea, a registered Republican who plans to vote for Trump in November, says the debate confirmed her belief that Clinton is disingenuous and a status quo politician. She says she thinks Trump is a wild card with no proven governing experiences. Yet she likes his plan to lower taxes, cut regulations, and do away with trade deals that she thinks restrict economic growth.

She says voting for Trump is definitely taking a risk, but compares that risk to her own business.

“In most cases, when my company has grown it is because of taking a risk on something we believed in,” Shea says, adding: “This is the first time ever, in all my voting years, that I am not confident in my decision or [proud] of the candidate I will be casting my vote for.”

Shea is co-owner of Wrapsody, a gift and home décor boutique, with two locations in Birmingham, Alabama, and an online store. The company has six full-time employees, and annual sales of $2.7 million.