In this article, we delve into the relationship between 2024 US presidential candidates and their approaches to regulations, a key element of their policy agendas. Whether we want them to or not, regulations impact all aspects of our daily lives. From food to energy to medicines, rules are put in place to protect citizens and to ensure the economy functions the way voters want.
Regulations play a pivotal role in driving economic growth and investment. They can either foster innovation, protect the public, and promote industry, or, conversely, stifle economic sectors, curtail individual freedoms and dramatically drive-up costs for businesses. Or worse, regulations can pick winners and losers in the U.S. economy.
In the current acrimonious dynamic political landscape, a diverse array of Republican candidates vying for the presidency presents varying visions for regulatory policy. Objectively sorting through the chaos of the regulatory policy is no easy feat as the hyperbolic language tends to gloss over the constraints placed on executive power. Grand visions of reform inevitably collide with the U.S. Congress. For example, as comprehensive immigration reform sits idle, presidents ramped up their use of executive orders and other regulatory actions to deal with the crime and illegal crossings plaguing the southern border.
Nearly all administrations cannot resist the temptation to push the boundaries of executive authority. The question is where they choose to apply maximum pressure. Let’s take a deeper look at how the candidates stack up in this critical area. As we explore each candidate’s approach to regulations, we aim to provide factual insights into how their leadership might shape the regulatory landscape and our daily lives.
During his presidency, Donald Trump left an indelible mark on the landscape of regulatory policy, combining deregulation, trade, immigration, and a commitment to economic growth. His approach was characterized by a focus on reducing regulatory burdens, streamlining, and a strong commitment to American businesses.
Donald Trump’s stance on regulatory policy can be encapsulated in one term: deregulation. Upon taking office, he made it clear that he intended to cut through the red tape that had accumulated over the years. Under his administration, numerous executive agencies received orders to identify and eliminate burdensome regulations, a mission led by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
One of Trump’s significant regulatory moves was his “two-out, one-in” policy. This directive mandated that for every new regulation introduced, two existing regulations had to be repealed. This initiative aimed to curtail the growth of regulations and ensure that their benefits outweighed their costs. While this policy faced criticism for its simplicity, proponents argued that it sent a strong signal to federal agencies to carefully consider the impact of their regulatory actions.
He overhauled America’s approach to foreign trade and investment, appointing a pitbull trade negotiator (Robert Lighthizer) and slapping huge tariffs on U.S. imports. China was never far from Trump’s mind during his administration. Today, he continues to insist that China is “winning” in the international trade arena, and believes a muscular response is essential to retaking the lead.
If reelected, Trump would look to continue taking a hard line on restricting economic engagement with China. While China serves as the lynchpin in Trump’s policy platform, he also demonstrates a willingness to employ other regulatory tactics to protect domestic manufacturers from import competition, mainly by increasing customs tariffs (i.e., taxes) on foreign goods. During an interview on Fox Business, Trump has proposed a 10% tariff on all goods entering the United States.
Trump would also keep immigration front and center on the regulatory agenda. Trump’s goals for the border include continuing to expand the wall, implementing, and increasing the penalties for human traffickers and illegal immigrants who cross. He would forgo international law on refugees and migration, prioritizing stringent enforcement.
Finally, Trump would target regulatory reductions for energy producers and energy-intensive industries, like steel and aluminum manufacturing. Trump blames Democratic policies on energy and climate for sparking runaway inflation and increasing the cost of production for businesses and households. He believes his energy reform agenda would lower the burden on Americans and reduce the price of gasoline. Indeed, pocketbook issues are a perennial favorite for Trump, who also demonstrated an interest in reducing the cost of prescription drugs for senior citizens.
Ron DeSantis, the current Governor of Florida, is known for his strong stance on regulatory reform and governance. His core regulatory tenets are articulated in his “Declaration of Economic Independence” and are reflected in his record as the governor of Florida. DeSantis places a high emphasis on the need for regulatory reform that fosters increased productivity and economic growth while preventing what he perceives as excessive government regulation from stifling the American economy.
One of DeSantis’ major areas of concern regarding regulations lies in environmental policies. He has been a vocal critic of environmental regulations, which he believes hinder America’s ability to produce affordable and abundant energy. In addressing these concerns, DeSantis has proposed reversing attempts to incentivize electric vehicle purchases, withdrawing the U.S. from global climate pacts, and “greenlight” the extraction of natural resources. His specific focus includes increasing the production of oil, gas, coal, uranium, and other minerals, which may involve extracting deposits located on federally-owned land throughout the country.
In addition to his economic plans, DeSantis shares Trump’s dislike for foreign country competition, particularly the Chinese Communist Party He blames the Chinese Communist Party for a host of economic ills and pledges to maintain an assertive stance on the global stage. In addition, he points to mass illegal immigration as the culprit behind low wages for American workers.
While he does not outline specific regulatory actions to address these concerns, he leaves no doubt that he would pursue comprehensive measures to tackle these issues if elected to the presidency.
Beyond the economic lens, DeSantis used his executive authority in Florida to lead the fight on social and cultural issues, including school curriculum and transgender bathroom policies He has expressed his commitment to continuing this crusade at the federal level, vowing to “support school choice and protect parental rights” in education.
The South Carolina Senator’s approach to regulation and his potential impact on various sectors of the economy have garnered significant attention. Scott’s campaign tends to rely on the Senator’s senior role on the Senate Banking Committee and his Opportunity Agenda to guide policy pronouncements. The available policy proposals reflect Scott’s characteristic focus on small businesses and the less fortunate, as well as financial services regulation.
Tim Scott’s approach to regulatory policy centers on limited government intervention. He believes that businesses should operate with minimal regulatory burdens to promote innovation, job creation, and economic growth. Scott emphasizes the importance of reducing red tape and eliminating unnecessary regulations, particularly in areas such as job training, taxation, labor, and retirement benefits.
In addition, Scott frequently pens letters to regulatory agencies reminding them of their duty to protect small businesses and consumers. One such letter recently took aim at the regulatory agenda employed by the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler.
On the debate stage, Scott has echoed Republican policy priorities concerning immigration, federal government spending, and taxation. Nonetheless, formal regulatory proposals are virtually non-existent. If he won, Scott would likely turn out to be one of the most economically astute presidents in history. But the same strengths that make him a policy wonk’s dream also make him an increasingly long-shot candidate.
Among the Republican candidates contending for the presidency, Chris Christie brings a distinctive perspective to the discussion regarding regulatory policies. As a former governor of New Jersey, he has a track record that offers insights into how he might approach regulatory matters if elected to the highest office in the land. However, it is worth noting that Christie’s campaign policy platform currently lacks specific details, leaving us to anticipate his regulatory agenda based largely on his debate performances and record in New Jersey. His public comments tend to reflect the standard GOP orthodoxy about the importance of reducing regulations to spur economic growth and job creation. But even Christie’s New Hampshire town hall event, where he laid out the defining vision for his campaign, failed to detail specific regulatory steps the former governor would seek to implement.
In debates and media appearances, Christie has focused heavily on the economy, government spending, and immigration. He touts his executive bonafides as a former pro-business governor who prioritized economic development and took on entitlement spending in the state’s pension system. It seems likely that Christie would pursue a similar agenda as president. The catch is that Christie largely accomplished his goals in New Jersey by working in concert with Democrat lawmakers. Despite his record of consensus building, it is difficult to see much bipartisan cooperation occurring in today’s political climate.
That leaves immigration and labor policy as two potential avenues of engagement for a Christie presidency. Christie has sharpened his rhetoric on immigration as of late, vowing to send the National Guard to help secure the southern border and decrying the “lawlessness” enabled by Democratic administrations. In addition, Christie promotes his aggressive tactics dealing with New Jersey teachers’ unions during his time as governor. One wonders how he might apply his proclivity for facing off against organized labor as president, particularly in the aftermath of the United Auto Workers strike against Detroit automakers.
Omitted from previous articles in this series, Nikki Haley has earned mention through impressive debate performances and consistent polling above 5%. Her regulatory vision is rooted in the principles of limited government intervention, individual liberty, and free-market capitalism. Throughout her political career, she has consistently advocated for reducing government regulations that she believes stifle economic growth and innovation.
Her regulatory agenda thus far seems tailor made for the first caucus in Iowa. She has called out an environmental rule hated by the farming community and announced an intention to restrict Chinese purchases of farmland in the U.S.
Environmental regulations will also be targeted for rollback under Haley’s vision. She criticized Democratic lawmakers for “trying to control the lightbulbs we use, the cars we drive, the stoves we buy and countless other parts of our daily lives.” Hayley would also seek to find ways to lower energy costs for Americans, including a pledge to eliminate federal gas and diesel taxes.
As governor of South Carolina, Haley cut regulations that hampered small businesses. She targeted sector-specific regulations in industries such as automotive manufacturing and craft breweries, with the goal of ensuring “government doesn’t get in the way of businesses in South Carolina.” She also took a tough line on immigration, using her executive authority to spar with the administration of then-President Barack Obama over the enforcement of immigration laws.
If a Republican candidate takes the helm in 2024, you can bet on a heavy dose of regulatory reform targeting businesses, manufacturers, and energy producers. All candidates also share a steadfast desire to slash federal spending and trim government operations. Yet as we have seen, this element of Republican dogma rarely gains traction. The more critical regulatory debates instead revolve around immigration, energy, and China.
Republican candidates strongly agree on the dire state of the southern border and blame Joe Biden and Democrats. They advocate strict enforcement and tougher policies for illegal crossings. Overlooked is the substantial economic impact of immigration. Immigrant workers play a vital role in agribusiness and technology. As an example, around 75% of farm workers were foreign-born in 2020, with many arriving legally through foreign worker programs. Without them, American agricultural goods, such as milk, meat, and vegetables, face significant production challenges. It would be most helpful if any of the candidates would put forward a comprehensive legal immigration policy.
Energy policy is another common thread connecting all the Republican candidates. American energy independence – the ability to fully meet our energy needs domestically – is the holy grail for the 2024 lineup. But in practice, a fully self-sufficient American energy system would be difficult to achieve. Cutting regulations can certainly enable increased domestic production, but energy markets will still be subject to geopolitical risk.
The war in Ukraine underscores the point. Despite short-term price shocks, mild weather helped Europe avoid an energy crisis in 2022-2023. European nations and industrial firms have been signing liquified natural gas import contracts at a frenetic pace, hoping to secure stable supplies to replace the output of Russian pipelines. But the continent remains just one bad winter away from a perilous economic situation. Another risk comes from the Middle East, where the war between Israel and Hamas threatens to engulf the wider region. All these developments could negatively impact energy prices in the US, no matter how self-reliant our energy system is seen to be.
An important opportunity is missing from the candidate’s energy security strategy: Canada and Mexico. Just last year, America imported over $150 billion of energy from our neighbor to the north. One easy regulatory action for a Republican president would be reinstating the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would have transported Canadian crude to refineries on the Gulf Coast (President Biden rejected the pipeline on his first day in office). Factoring Canada and Mexico into the energy regulation agenda would result in more meaningful discussions on enhancing resilience and reducing risk for energy users in the United States.
Finally, the Republican candidates all agree on the need to use regulations to advance America’s competitive position vis-a-vis China. However, they display varying points of emphasis in their proposed regulatory responses. Part of the divergence reflects the sheer momentum of the Sino-American economic relationship. For all the recent tensions, bilateral trade between the two nations has grown for three years in a row, with a U.S. trade deficit measuring over $380 billion in 2022.
One camp of the candidates, led primarily by Trump and DeSantis, focuses on the national security implications of the trade relationship with China. The regulatory proposals from these two candidates are therefore more likely to restrict trade and investment on national security grounds. Actions could include increased tariffs on Chinese goods, continued restrictions on trade in sensitive technology, and enhanced efforts to clamp down on Chinese exporters who arrange intermediate facilities in third countries to mask their exports to the United States. Another corollary of this approach is a muscular industrial policy, where the federal government provides strategic support for targeted industries (either through direct subsidies or protecting domestic manufacturers from import competition).
The other camp, led by Tim Scott and Chris Christie, emphasizes America’s traditional economic strengths as the key to outcompeting China. These include an openness to innovation, commitment to free markets, and promotion of a liberalizing trade agenda on the global stage. Make no mistake, these candidates pull no punches when discussing Chinese malfeasance. However, their general orientation is to focus on reducing regulations on American companies to enable the best performance from domestic firms.
With economic headwinds piling up, and interest rates remaining elevated, the next president will likely face a slew of regulatory choices. The direction they pursue will pose risks and opportunities for every sector of the economy. A robust understanding of the Republican platform will help ensure savvy investors and businesses can take advantage of the regulatory direction, no matter how the final election tally turns out. These regulatory choices will be pivotal in shaping the nation’s economic landscape and determining its competitive standing in a rapidly changing global arena.