Showmanship
Another PR Win for Trump

President-elect Donald Trump just racked up another big public relations win. On Tuesday, Ford Motor Co. announced that it would no longer be building a plant in Mexico, and that it is hiring 700 new factory workers in the Detroit area. The New York Times has the story:

The decision by Ford to drop plans for a new plant in Mexico — what would have been a $1.6 billion investment — came at the same time the company announced it would add 700 jobs to build electric and hybrid vehicles at a plant in Flat Rock, Mich.

The new Mexican factory was to build Ford Focus sedans currently manufactured at another Michigan plant near Detroit. Now the company will build those cars at an existing plant in Mexico.

Ford officials said that the revised plans were tied to market conditions that have depressed small-car sales, and that they did not consult with the incoming Trump administration before making the decision.

They did, though, tell Mr. Trump about the change just before the announcement. And on Tuesday, Mr. Fields made clear that Mr. Trump’s policies were playing a role in the company’s thinking. He added in an interview that the president-elect’s emphasis on tax changes and cutting regulations should have an overall positive effect on automakers such as Ford.

There are lots of legitimate concerns about the extent to which the President-elect is inserting himself into the decision-making of private firms, but after decades of feeling like nobody had their backs, many Americans are probably feeling good about this news. The initial press reaction was less hostile than to the Carrier announcement last year (this was partly because Trump was less directly involved this time), but it still demonstrates elites’ distance from the mindset of many of Trump’s working class supporters.

Trump understands what the technocratic elite often doesn’t: Politics is about perception at least as much as it is about policy. Trump’s showmanship has helped him consistently outmaneuver his critics. For years, elites have insisted the factory jobs aren’t coming back and can’t be kept in America. They claimed there was no rabbit in Trump’s magic hat, but now a rabbit has appeared. So what if it’s just a small rabbit? Trump was elected, and the things people said would never happen now seem to be happening.

The momentum is clearly on Trump’s side. Expert opinion may very well be right that new manufacturing jobs won’t reinvigorate the American economy in any meaningful way, but that’s not the point. The point is that Trump appears to be delivering results on behalf of people who felt utterly abandoned until recently. The press would do well to reconsider how it sets expectations—or Trump will keep upending them.

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