Republicans unveiled a platform in Cleveland this week with a tech agenda often at odds with the pronouncements of its own presidential candidate, reflecting an effort by party leaders to mend fences with an industry vital to the nation's economy.
On the handful of tech issues that he has mentioned to date, Donald Trump has been overwhelmingly antagonistic toward the industry -- and the internet itself. From advocating shutting down the internet to fight terrorism, to proclaiming that "the internet and the whole computer age is really a mixed bag," Trump seems to have little use for the web (unless it can make him money, hence his calls to legalize internet gambling).
On the campaign trail, he slammed Apple and urged a boycott of the company for refusing to develop a backdoor for the FBI. For good measure he said he would force Apple to manufacture its products in the United States.
When the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post drew his ire, he revoked the newspaper's campaign credentials (along with those of many other media outlets) and threatened the CEO of Amazon with an antitrust investigation.
Trump has flipped and flopped on the subject of H-1B visas, and has ignored altogether issues of importance to the tech industry, such as STEM education, the gig economy, and patent reform. His lack of a tech agenda sends the message that he doesn't appear to care about those issues, said Robert Atkinson, president of the tech-focused think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
But Trump's anti-immigration policies have drawn the biggest public rebuke from tech leaders. An open letter penned last week by a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors -- with more than 150 signatories, including the founders and co-founders of such companies as Twitter, Apple, Slack, Expedia, Tumblr, Facebook, Reddit, eBay, and Sun Microsystems -- states:
Progressive immigration policies help us attract and retain some of the brightest minds on earth -- scientists, entrepreneurs, and creators. In fact, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Donald Trump, meanwhile, traffics in ethnic and racial stereotypes, repeatedly insults women, and is openly hostile to immigration.
Declaring that "Trump would be a disaster for innovation," the letter concludes:
We stand against Donald Trump's divisive candidacy and want a candidate who embraces the ideals that built America's technology industry: freedom of expression, openness to newcomers, equality of opportunity, public investments in research and infrastructure, and respect for the rule of law. We embrace an optimistic vision for a more inclusive country, where American innovation continues to fuel opportunity, prosperity and leadership.
It's safe to say Trump has a huge problem with the tech industry.
Mason Harrison, a Republican who has worked for several presidential campaigns, including Mitt Romney's and John McCain's, told the New York Times: "Where Trump has stood on immigration reform, or how he called for a boycott of Apple, or on a number of other issues, it almost seems like he's gone out of his way to smite Silicon Valley leaders on the issues they care about."
The GOP platform attempts to extend an olive branch, stating that Republicans "envision government at all levels as a partner with individuals and industries in technological progress, not a meddlesome monitor." The platform goes on to state that the party "wants to create a business climate that rewards risk and promotes innovation" (willfully ignoring in-your-face evidence that the prevailing business climate has been rewarding innovation and risk just fine).
The platform even goes out on a limb on the contentious subject of encryption. Despite Trump's denunciation of encryption, the section on "The Fourth Amendment: Liberty and Privacy" applauds "technology companies [that] have responded to market demand for products and services that protect the privacy of customers through increasingly sophisticated encryption technology. These increased privacy protections have become crucial to the digital economy."
The declaration grows somewhat ambiguous when acknowledging that "such innovations have brought new dangers, especially from criminals and terrorists who seek to use encryption technology to harm us," but avers that "no matter the medium, citizens must retain the right to communicate with one another free from unlawful government intrusion."
In another tightrope-walking act, the platform's section on "Confronting Internet Tyranny" calls out authoritarian governments like China, Cuba, and Iran that "restrict free press and isolate their people limiting political, cultural, and religious freedom." It apparently sees no contradiction in simultaneously calling for the establishment of a national religion in the United States, or in championing "an open and free internet" on behalf of a candidate who called for parts of the internet to be shut down and blustered: "Somebody will say, 'Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.' These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people."
Party and candidate stand united, however, in denouncing net neutrality. "The current occupant [of the White House] has launched a campaign, both at home and internationally, to subjugate [the internet] to agents of government ... [and] turn over the Information Freedom Highway to regulators and tyrants," the GOP platform declares. This stance echoes a Trump tweet that thundered "Obama's attack on the internet is another top down power grab." (That same tweet went on to display Trump's ignorance about the issue by equating net neutrality with the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC policy that was eliminated in 1987 and has nothing to do with net neutrality.)
The platform turns its back on the 85 percent of Republicans who supported net neutrality regulation, and claims "the only way to safeguard or improve [the internet] is through the private sector." It fails to explain how ISPs wouldn't be guilty of picking winners and losers if allowed to turn the internet into a pay-to-play arena with fast-lane tolls.
In another statement replete with irony, Republican leaders feel the pain of rural America, "where farmers, ranchers, and small business people need connectivity." This ignores the party's history of repeatedly fighting local efforts to extend broadband and passing state laws that stamp out broadband competition and protect the very monopolies that have repeatedly broken their promises to build out a high-speed internet.
The platform omits altogether any mention of reforming immigration policies related to high-skilled workers. "The issue was off the table for a platform that calls for a wall along the Mexican border," Politico writes.
In the final analysis, however, the Republican platform -- written by party insiders, not the Trump campaign -- is unlikely to be a blueprint for what Trump would do as president, Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, told the IDG News Service.
"The reality seems to be that there is little reason to believe that the Republican presidential candidate and the platform of the Republican Party are mutually trustworthy as guides to what might actually unfold in a Republican-controlled federal government," Black said.