On the surface, you might think Mark Cuban has a lot in common with Donald Trump. Both are rich white men who have cashed in on their public personas through reality TV—Trump had The Apprentice, while Cuban has Shark Tank. But the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks doesn't want you to compare him to our president, even if he does maintain a residence at the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York City. Unlike Trump, Cuban came from humble beginnings—he grew up a middle-class Jew in Pittsburgh and self-made his billions in the 1990s dot-com boom. At a panel at South by Southwest last week, the tech mogul declared Trump "the Zoolander president," explaining that he's worked with Trump and the man doesn't know how to use email or search engines.
"His idea of efficiency is I would send him emails, his assistant would print it, he would write on it, and he would scan it," Cuban said. "He doesn't know how to use email."
In a strange turn of events, Cuban has gained political relevance thanks to the technologically inept Apprentice star now running the country. Since the election, Cuban has become somewhat of a fixture on cable-news programs to muse on the dangers of a Trump presidency. And as is usually the case when a rich person starts talking politics, rumors of a presidential run have begun to swirl. Earlier this week, CNN's Jake Tapper asked the Shark Tank mogul about the possibility of running against Trump in 2020. "I don't want to say no... but it's not my dream to be president of the United States," Cuban replied. On Wednesday, he told the Washington Post that while he doesn't have any interest in running for president, "Sometimes you got to do what you got to do."
Curious about Cuban's ambitions—I'm a diehard Shark Tank fan and run a vaguely socialist Shark Tank meme account—I emailed him to talk about his political aspirations, capitalism, and a Shark Tank presidency. Here's how our conversation went:
VICE: I know that when you've been asked about your presidential aspirations your answer has been (understandably) vague—"you got to do what you got to do." From searching Trump's tweets for mentions of Shark Tank, it's clear that he's been trying to feud with you for years now. Would a potential run in 2020 be a response to Donald Trump's transition from business to public service? Would you position yourself as sort of a liberal version of him?
Mark Cuban: No. It would not be a response to Trump at all. And first I'm socially liberal, fiscally conservative and proudly independent. Nothing about me is a version of what he has or will ever do. Being compared to him is not a positive.
What do you mean by socially liberal but fiscally conservative? Where do you stand on, say, the issue of whether government should provide social services to the poor?
I think if you make government more efficient there is more money that can go directly to those who need it. I want people to get the help they need.
One hundred percent of us have the same risks in the genetic and wrong-place wrong-time lottery. In this country, when we all face the same risk, we tend to be empathetic and share the cost. The same should apply to healthcare. I think the government should pay for chronic illness and life-threatening injuries. That we should eliminate insurance companies from the mix for those illnesses and injuries and pay healthcare providers directly.
I think we should pay a fixed price of $50,000 per year for doctors to go to med school, and instead of having $90,000 in med school at any one time, we should invest tax dollars to have at least twice as many. This will reduce the cost and improve the quality of healthcare.
Bottom line is that for anything serious I think healthcare is a right. The same smart business judgement can be applied to any number of social services. Performance shouldn't be measured by the size of the budget but the quality of the help.
Technology has the chance to change the nature of government significantly. Government as a service means all the mind-numbing administrative [duties] can be reduced and in many many places replaced so that we can invest in providing support to those who need it.
Do have any plans to advance your ideas about healthcare? Maybe by running for office (not necessarily president) or donating to politicians (like Bernie Sanders, for example) who agree that healthcare is a right?
In general, what do you think of the idea of the country being run like a business? Is that a political ideology you believe in, or do you believe that government and business serve fundamentally different purposes in society?
Not everyone runs their business the same way. To me, whether it's business or government, it comes down to being a leader and inspiring people to find solutions and solve problems. The challenge of government is scale, structure, and diversity of needs. Strong leaders, whether from business or government, can learn how to be inclusive, communicate, manage, prioritize, and get results. This is a simplification, but it's a way of saying that who the person is is more important than where they had their careers.
What do you think of fellow Shark Tank investor Kevin O'Leary's potential run for office in Canada?
I stay out of Canadian politics.
Has your work on Shark Tank inspired you to potentially get into the politics, as the show's premise is hinged on using capitalism to help people achieve their dreams?
Why is helping people through capitalism important to you?
Through capitalism? You make it sound like it's a disease! I like to help entrepreneurs reach their goals. I'm good at it.
Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter, even Mark Cuban does.