Now that Donald Trump is the first CEO to become president, you’ve got to wonder how long it will be before the next one. Maybe just four years?
Politicos are buzzing over the recent activities of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He sets a personal goal for each year—in 2010 it was to learn Chinese—and this year it’s to visit all 50 states. His first stop was Waco, Texas, where he met with ministers and community leaders, which struck some campaign veterans as exactly the way a presidential candidate launches a campaign before announcing it. Two weeks ago he hired David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, to run policy and advocacy efforts at the foundation he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have established. They’re also forming a public policy advisory board of former government officials to help guide the foundation’s efforts; the board’s leader will be Kenneth Mehlman, who managed George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign.
None of this means Zuckerberg is considering a run. But he’s doing just about everything a CEO would be doing at this extremely early stage of the cycle if he were pondering a run.
You may recall that last year Facebook issued a new class of stock that would enable Zuckerberg and Chan to give away vast numbers of shares while still retaining control of the company. Part of the move’s stated rationale was that it would require Zuckerberg to remain as an executive in order to retain control—unless, that is, he resigned “in connection with his serving in a government position or office.” Another consideration: For as long as he remained connected to Facebook, he would have access to the greatest trove of public opinion intelligence in existence through analysis of Facebook posts. As a candidate, would he be permitted to use it? Would he try?
One wonders if other CEOs might be thinking of a run in this new environment. A short-lived 2015 rumor, never confirmed, held that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was interested for 2016. Hillary Clinton’s campaign put Schultz and Bill Gates on its list of possible vice presidential nominees, though no evidence ever surfaced that either of them would have considered it.
Conventional wisdom, built on the political graves of Wendell Willkie, Ross Perot, and others, held that CEOs without government experience can’t become president. With that view disproven, a new class of contenders seems sure to emerge. It’s only a matter of time. And Zuckerberg in particular has a lot of time. He will turn 36 in 2020, meeting the constitutional requirement that a president be at least 35. He could postpone his run until 2052 and still be younger than Trump at inauguration.
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