Brian Howey: Trump delivers on a campaign euphemism
Monday, December 12, 2016 10:00 AM
NASHVILLE, Ind. – Back in March, when most couldn’t fathom the notion of “President-elect Trump,” I wrote a column comparing the Manhattan mogul to Phineas Taylor Barnum. The Indiana presidential primary was just taking shape but I could sense his potential for a Republican nomination.
Comparing Trump to P.T. Barnum was because the two, separated by more than a century in time, had a unique love for “the show.” Wikipedia describes Barnum as an “American politician, showman, and businessman remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus. He once said, “I am a showman by profession ... and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.”
Trump loves the show too. He doesn’t read books and is not interested in intelligence briefings. He gets his news from “the shows” and he loves beauty pageants and starred in his own show, “The Apprentice” with the famous line, “You’re fired!” He turned the 2016 election cycle into the most sensational reality show in history, ending with a stunning presidential upset on Nov. 8. It promises to get exponentially impactful as he brews an administration.
On Dec. 1, he and Vice President-elect Mike Pence brought this “show” to Indianapolis to save Carrier jobs. As the pair entered the plant where 1,400 had been told “You’re fired,” you could almost hear Barnum whisper into the billionaire’s ear, “If you hesitate some bolder hand will stretch out before you and get the prize.”
Trump and Pence announced they had “saved” 1,100 jobs, though when it was all sorted out in the following days, we learned the Indiana Economic Development Corporation had promised $7 million, with 730 Carrier jobs remaining. Trump rounded it off by including 300 jobs that were never slated to move to Mexico, though some 500 Carrier jobs will end up there at $5.90 an hour, along with 700 United Technologies jobs in Huntington.
By this past Wednesday, Trump ended up in a Twitter feud with Chuck Jones, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1999, who was left in the dark until Trump and Pence appeared. He was initially grateful for the saved 730 jobs, but told the Washington Post that Trump was “lying his ass off” by claiming 1,100. Our President-elect then tweeted that Jones “has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!”
What should we make of this?
This was good politics for a fledgling administration, at least until the Trump/Jones tweet spar. There were great headlines spread over several news cycles. Trump understands the art of political theater.
It contrasts with President Obama, who actually saved about 150,000 Hoosier jobs with his 2009 General Motors and Chrysler restructuring. But Obama didn’t understand “the show.” His Democratic Party got shellacked in the 2010 mid-terms. Then U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly remembers Chrysler workers telling him they were voting for guns, not jobs. The irony there is that Obama and Vice President Biden showed up at a Kokomo Chrysler plant and announced billions of dollars of investments three weeks after the 2010 elections.
So here was Trump at the Carrier “show” delivering on a campaign promise, right? Actually, Trump delivered on a campaign “euphemism.” I’ll let him explain:
Trump recalled a “handsome” Carrier employee on an NBC Nightly News. “He said something to the effect, ‘No we’re not leaving, because Donald Trump promised us that we’re not leaving.’ And I never thought I made that promise – not with Carrier. I made it for everybody else. I didn’t make it really for Carrier.”
In that other show last August - “NBC Nightly News” - Trump actually did say, “We’re bringing jobs back to our country. We’re not going to let Carrier leave.” And at every Trump rally I attended, he castigated Carrier for leaving Indy.
“I said, ‘Carrier will never leave.’ But that was a euphemism,” Trump explained. “I was talking about Carrier, like all other companies from here on in. Because they made the decision a year and a half ago. But he believed that was, and I could understand it.”
It prompted Salena Zito of The Atlantic to observe, “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
So allow me to roll the credits. Trump did retrieve at least 730 Hoosier jobs. But close to a 1,000 are still headed to Mexico. Attorney General Greg Zoeller told me this week that Trump knows the art of the deal. A great businessman (or attorney) will hold the facts and perceptions close to the vest, cut the deal, then proclaim victory.
Half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin termed it “crony capitalism.” The Wall Street Journal called it “Trump’s Carrier Shakedown.” Irwin M. Stelzer, writing in the Weekly Standard, observed, “A decent deal but a rotten precedent. Trump threatened other companies with ‘consequences’ if they take jobs abroad. Board rooms around the country are being entertained with Power Point presentations, ‘How to Turn a Credible Threat of Plant Closure Into a Nice Subsidy.’”
Or as P.T. Barnum would observe, “Remember the proverb of Solomon: ‘He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand; but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.’”
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.