Yesterday was a pretty embarrassing day for Jamie Dimon…is something you would think if you believe that Jamie Dimon is prone to frothy, politically-charged outbursts while talking into a hot mic at a JPMorgan corporate event.
But maybe you’re the kind of person who tends to believe that a man who has maintained his CEO role at a multi-trillion dollar global financial services behemoth for 13 years, steered said megabank through the 2008 crisis, and become the unofficial face of Wall Street is also the kind of guy who takes real care in his messaging and has a communications team capable of strategizing a “moment” inside a larger narrative. And if your thinking is more along those lines, you might see this tweet as the ideal outcome of Dimon’s “embarrassing” day:
The problem with banker Jamie Dimon running for President is that he doesn’t have the aptitude or “smarts” & is a poor public speaker & nervous mess – otherwise he is wonderful. I’ve made a lot of bankers, and others, look much smarter than they are with my great economic policy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
See, many people will look at this tweet and wonder why Dimon would be so rash as to pick a fight with a president so incapable of letting petty shit like this go. It’s bad business, those folks will say, for an American bank CEO to openly feud with the White House. But these people are stupid. These people should really shut up and sit down.
Dimon has been picking this fight for months. And he’s been doing it with the kind of balls-out strategery that one would expect from the guy who has never stopped bitching and moaning that he didn’t even want that $25 billion in bailout TARP funding. While never a natural ally, our perception is that Dimon began contemplating joining “the resistance” last summer after Charlottesville.
To be fair, Jamie sounded a little despondent about how things were going in Trump’s America a few weeks before Charlottesville, and he seemed halfway interested in doing something patriotic about it a few days before white supremacists picked up their Tiki Torches and marched across UVA. But after the dark days of last August, things shifted in a major way for Jamie Dimon.
The dissolution of the President’s Economic Policy Forum [or whatever] was an unnecessarily hot piece of drama mostly because our Messy-Bitch-in-Chief couldn’t resist the reflexive urge to lie about who broke up with whom. But it also got news play because Dimon and Steve Schwarzman were suddenly unwilling to play along with the bullshit notion that they weren’t the ones to abandon Trump’s showpiece council after he somehow equivocated on his condemnation of Neo-Nazis. We heard from an insider at the time that Jamie was not-so-privately “shocked and very pissed off,” but so were many people. Apparently, Dimon was ready to do something about it.
Our sparsely informed conspiracy theory goes like this: Aside from bashing Bitcoin and praising corporate tax reform (and Gary Cohn for his part in it) Dimon spent the fall and early winter quietly getting his own house in order. He promoted Daniel Pinto and Gordon Smith to get things ready for future CEO Marianne Lake, giving JPM the closest thing that it’s had to a succession plan in many moons, and giving Dimon cover to step aside in time for the 2019 Iowa State Fair.
On that note, if you think we’ve had fun fucking around about Dimon’s potential run for the White House, Jamie himself has been having an absolute ball “not” talking about it with increasing frequency.
It seems like we can’t go more than a week or two at this point without Jamie speaking out broadly on some political topic and then coyly mentioning that he’s not getting into politics. But that hasn’t stopped him from wading directly into the health care debate via a direct alliance with Trump nemesis Jeff Bezos. Trump himself must have been shocked to see his beautiful, easy trade war being publicly criticized by the non-political CEO of America’s largest bank. And Jamie’s aversion to politics was impotent in preventing him from talking about job training at Howard University or putting on casual clothes and pledging to fix Chicago on live television. And if you’re still not convinced that Jamie hasn’t been strategically pursuing a plan to passive-aggressively fuck with Donald Trump’s fragile psyche, may we remind you that Dimon announced plans in February to build a 75-story skyscraper? On Park Avenue? That would posit a future in which Jamie could stand on the top floor of his new tower and gaze down at the 58-story Trump Tower a few blocks north.
And yet all of that was a merely the prologue to yesterday. While we all remember what Jamie said in the late morning (and we’ll circle back to that very shortly), it seems like many have forgotten what Jamie made news for even earlier in the day. In an interview with the FT, Jamie took pains to make himself sound like a man already on his way into the next chapter of life:
Asked if he was leaving more of the bank’s management to Mr Pinto and Mr Smith, Mr Dimon, now 62 and Wall Street’s longest-serving bank chief executive, told the Financial Times: “There’s a little truth to that.”
“When you have Tom Bradys on the field, you let them be the quarterback and you can be the coach,” he said, referring to one of the two American football players to win five Super Bowl championships. “In many cases, I’m more like the coach now. That’s totally appropriate.”
So, yeah, five more years of being “a coach.” We totally see that.
Again, you can elect to see this as Jamie just having a relaxed honest chat with one of those cool chill bro types who work at the FT. We will be smarter though, and point out that this was something JPM’s comm people set up, Jamie delivered on, and the timing was planned well in advance. A not-so-vague indicator that Jamie Dimon is more open to new challenges.
Speaking of planning, there was also a corporate charity event at JPM HQ yesterday morning, and Jamie made an appearance. And he said some things. We had some solid snippets of what Dimon said yesterday, but let’s look at the shots he took in their entirety:
Question: Why not throw your hat in the ring, Jamie? [laughter]
Dimon: I mean, I’ve said this before Trump was elected. You’re not going to get a wealthy New Yorker elected president. Boy I was dead wrong. And by the way, this wealthy New Yorker [pointing to himself] actually earned his money. It wasn’t a gift from Daddy. And I grew up in a poorer part of Queens than he did, but I am a banker. I am part of the elite. He…I don’t think the American public looks at Trump as part of the elite. They look at him as the upstart who punched the elite in the nose every day. And so I think…I think I could beat Trump. I can’t beat the liberal side of the Democratic party.
Subtle. And while Dimon might have thrown his punch a little harder than he intended, the punch itself was planned and he landed it. We’re blushing that he used a version of the #DraftDimon motto, but we’re also laughing that he tried to pretend what he said next was an “oopsy”…
Question: You think you can beat Trump?
Dimon: Yeah. I do, yeah. [laughter] Because I’m as tough as he is, I’m smarter than he is. I would be fine. He could punch me all he wants, it wouldn’t work with me. I’d fight right back. But you have these….the Democratic party….they’ve got to get their act together in terms of understanding how society actually works. Because if they just keep on pounding away at business…I watch these ads on TV with all these people …they’re all running and they’re all going to [wags finger] …business where their place is. Well, OK, right that’s going to really work. That’s going to really succeed……
He meant every word of what he said here and we are certain that he’s been thinking about all of it since last summer with a growing intensity.
Taking a direct and targeted shot at the world’s most emotionally adolescent septuagenarian is a risky move if he’s also occupying the Oval Office, but let’s not for a moment pretend that Jamie hasn’t been weighing and projecting the cost-benefit analysis of this “outburst” for a while now. He’s baiting Trump, using the media to draw him out and get into a pissing match with the face of Wall Street power/greed/omnipotence. Trump is unwise to take Dimon on directly and even dumber to mention what he’s done to help Jamie Dimon thrive. Yet, here we are.
It’s been 10 years almost to the day since Lehman Brothers failed and the 2008 financial crisis reached its nadir. We’ve spent the last decade confronting the aftermath of the failure of our banking system, the bailouts, the political upheaval and the larger moral questions that went unsolved while Wall Street thrived in a government-funded recovery. And yet the one man who has benefited the most from that period, the one man who seems to have genuinely survived and been born anew in its ashes, the man who took billions and acted pissed when he was asked to say thanks, that man is publicly offering moral judgement of the sitting American president and saying out loud that he is confident he would be elected and be a superior public servant.
And he’s not even wrong.