Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at his company’s annual F8 developer conference, Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) ORG XMIT: CANB101 (Photo: Noah Berger, AP)

LOS ANGELES — The next presidential cycle is closer than you think.

For all practical purposes, it starts heating up next year, and so far there’s no clear front-runner on the Democratic side to challenge President Donald Trump.

There has been talk lately about notable tech CEOs such as Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg picking up the mantle and going head to head with our CEO-in-chief. Both have recently criss-crossed the country in what looked like pre-presidential runs. (Both deny interest in the job.)

Let’s handicap their chances, along with two other prominent tech leaders, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Tim Cook

Pro The Apple CEO is brilliant when it comes to manufacturing. Steve Jobs was the visionary, but it was Cook who figured out how to churn out hundreds of millions of iPhones every year. Over 200 million iPhones will sell this year, more individual units than any other mass-produced high-end device. He’s been outspoken for equal and gay rights, and mastered the art of public speaking, ably succeeding Jobs in the highly viewed and choreographed Apple product introductions. 

Con As an out and proud gay man, Cook would have to endure decades of prejudice and hostility–the USA has never elected a gay president. And while known to the tech press, Cook is not a household name in America’s kitchens and living rooms.

It’s only been in recent years that a handful of politicians and business leaders, have felt comfortable disclosing their sexuality in public.  When Tim Cook said he was “proud to be gay,” in 2014, he was the highest profile CEO at the time, and since, to come out. While American voters’ attitudes towards gay rights has changed considerably over the years–witness the legalization of gay marriage, recent events in Charlottesville and elsewhere show that bigotry is still alive and well. Additionally, Cook has no elective experience and isn’t well-known outside the tech press. 

Facebook’s duo

Mark Zuckerberg 

Pro Zuck’s genius is growing the world’s largest social network and tapping into what people want to talk about, and keeping several steps ahead of competitors like Google and Snap Inc. with new (virtual reality) or emulated (augmented reality) technologies. Zuckerberg, 33, in recent months has been out fulfilling a goal of visiting with folks in every state in the U.S. Sound like Hillary Clinton’s “listening tour” before she announced plans to run for 2016?

Con No elective office and a background that isn’t exactly uplifting — he was accused of stealing the idea for Facebook from the Winklevoss brothers, as outlined in the Social Network movie and first ran the site as a “Hot or Not” place to rate women’s looks. And he’s young. Zuckerberg would easily be the youngest president, if elected in 2020. 

Critics on both sides would attack–conservatives would call him an out of touch San Francisco area liberal, while the other side would blast Zuckerberg for creating a platform that with many, many fake news stories, played a major factor in helping to elect Trump. 


Sheryl Sandberg

Pro She’s the Facebooker with actual government experience, serving as chief of staff to then-Treasury Secretary Larry Summers during the Bill Clinton administration. Sandberg, 48, was rumored to be in the running for the top job during a Hillary Clinton presidency. A best-selling author, with her best-seller Lean In, Sandberg is an inspiration to women (over 50% of potential voters) navigating through life and work. 

Con For all the talk about more roles for women in the workplace, Facebook’s executive ranks are dominated by white men. Surely as COO, Sandberg could have changed that. And how do you feel about Facebook’s control of our lives, and loss of privacy? Like Zuckerberg, she’d have to answer for that, and also deal with west coast liberal labels.  


Jeff Bezos

Pro Jeff Bezos’ little website Amazon decimated the shopping mall, Main Street and, potentially, the grocery store. By swallowing Whole Foods, Amazon can sell goods cheaper and more efficiently. 

He figured out how to get packages to us as breakneck speed, developed the idea of drones for delivery, bought the Washington Post and turned it into an editorial, money-making powerhouse, and like, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, is investing in outer space. 

Con Running for elective office would open Bezos up to stinging criticism from the retail concerns he’s demolished, put Amazon’s workplace history —employees are said to be subject to tough conditions — into the open arena, and he’s never run for anything before. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican candidate with a background in business, was repeatedly attacked for slashing jobs at Bain Capital. Bezos would face equally rough treatment. 


Our pick 

It’s a long-shot, but if it was down to these four, we think Cook could emerge successfully.

Keep on doing the road trips, and remember the old Clinton administration credo: It’s the economy, stupid. What tripped up Clinton in her historic loss to Trump? Forgetting about the Democrat’s base in the Midwest.

Cook recently announced a new Apple data center in Iowa and Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn opened for business in Wisconsin. All Cook has to do is get some more action going in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and focus on bringing jobs back to the heartland.

If Apple makes iPhones there, Cook could be a serious contender for the Democratic nomination.


Would you vote for Tim Cook? Let’s chat about it on Twitter, where I’m @jeffersongraham

If you haven’t subscribed to the TalkingTech newsletter yet, what are you waiting for? Just click this link and sign up: usat.ly/2qaIVVQ.

We also invite you to subscribe to the #TalkingTech podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Tunein and wherever else you like to hear great online audio.

Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2wQHLG9