Industry insiders regard Trump — and don’t know what to think

By Jennifer Yachnin | 03/23/2016 07:23 AM EDT

When it comes to foreign policy, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has declared he has a “very good brain” and sees himself as his own best consultant.

When it comes to foreign policy, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has declared he has a "very good brain" and sees himself as his own best consultant.

That method appears to extend to Trump’s energy policy, where the former reality TV star and businessman is acting as his campaign’s own adviser — albeit on a limited set of policies to date (ClimateWire, March 21).

And that may be just fine for the associations and lobbyists that represent both traditional and renewable sectors of the energy industry in Washington, D.C. — at least until Trump actually claims the mantle of Republican presidential nominee.


"A lot of people in this town are sort of the traditional folks who want to be seen as being adviser to this candidate or that candidate. They’re kind of scared of Donald Trump because if they sign on with him, God forbid they tarnish their GOP establishment credentials," explained American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle.

Numerous associations and individual lobbyists declined to comment on the record for this article, either to discuss the current campaign or what it might be like to work with a Trump administration on policy issues.

That underscores how little they know about Trump right now — and vice-versa. In a town where lobbyists traffic in information, that lack of familiarity leads to an unusual level of uncertainty.

But Pyle suggested that could change, assuming Trump is able to fend off Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich to win the GOP nod at the party’s July nominating convention.

"I think you’re going to see a stampede, if indeed he gets the nomination, of people rushing to get in the door," Pyle said.

Pyle noted that while energy policy issues have received little attention in the GOP primary — Trump has hinted he would slash funding for U.S. EPA, and his views on climate change suggest he would curtail the Clean Power Plan and other regulations — that’s attributable to the similarities in the Republican contenders’ views.

"I think that Donald Trump makes a lot of people in Washington nervous because he doesn’t fall into an ideological box, so with him there really is not predictability, and without predictability, it just kind of throws everyone’s game off a little in this town," Pyle said. "People thrive on everyone kind of falling into their ideological buckets."

Pyle said Trump has aligned himself with the AEA’s free-market stance on issues like curbing EPA but has split from it by "pandering" to the ethanol industry in Iowa. He noted that like other GOP candidates, Trump received an AEA questionnaire on issues, but he has yet to return it.

"I’m not nervous about it because he’s an unconventional candidate running an unconventional election. It’s unsettling to a lot of people I know," Pyle later added. "I’m taking the long view on it. … I’m optimistic that we’ll have ample opportunity to make our case with Donald Trump if he becomes the nominee."

Environmental lobbyists, on the other hand, acknowledged that they would likely be at odds with a Trump administration.

"Given what we have heard, the energy policy of a Trump White House would be truly unprecedented, in the worst possible ways," League of Conservation Voters spokesman Seth Stein said. "Off-the-cuff remarks and angry tweets seem to be the sum total of his approach to energy and environmental protection, leading the GOP front-runner to incoherently claim that the environment will just ‘be fine’ while repeatedly promising severe cuts to the EPA."

Pointing to Trump’s repeated description of climate change as a "hoax," Stein added: "His total lack of any concrete policy proposals begs the question — who would even be willing to work in a Trump administration?"

The League of Conservation Voters endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, where she faces Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Secretary Palin?

But what exactly would it be like to lobby a Trump administration and its officials, if the Republican front-runner were to win the November election?

Trump said last summer that he would "love" to have former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in his Cabinet, and the failed 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee has said she’d like to be secretary of Energy.

"She really is somebody who knows what’s happening, and she’s a special person. Everybody loves her," Trump told Mama Grizzly Radio, a pro-Palin media operation, last year, according to news reports.

But former American League of Lobbyists President Paul Miller suggested that Trump’s Cabinet — and the various political appointees who fill out executive branch agencies — might not tack quite so hard to the right as someone like Palin.

"I think this is where people are getting kind of hoodwinked," Miller said. "I think it’s going to be a more middle-of-the-road kind of Cabinet [and] people who work for the secretaries and undersecretaries."

He added: "If you look at the statements he made, he’s said he’s willing to negotiate. He’s willing to change his views. … He’s going to have his own favorites obviously, but I don’t think those favorites are going to be ideologues."

Public Citizen’s government affairs lobbyist, Craig Holman, suggested political observers should look to the administration of former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (I) as a comparison — suggesting Trump is more of an independent than a true partisan.

"I suspect there would be a lot of bipartisan appointments to federal agencies, which you wouldn’t see under a traditional Republican or Democratic administration," Holman said. "My guess is it would lose a lot of the partisan flavor that we have seen in previous administrations."

But both Holman and Miller predicted Trump would repeal revolving-door and other ethical restrictions the Obama administration has sought to apply to lobbyists.

"He’s going to need people who are experts in areas, who have ties and relationships that he might not have, and he needs the information," Miller said. "I don’t think you can go in and say Trump is going to hate lobbyists."