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Mon, Oct. 21

Column: Dabbler-in Chief’s Twitter pressure

On President Ronald Reagan’s desk in the Oval Office was a small plaque bearing the inscription, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”

The man who will be the nation’s 45th president does not seem to share the sentiment of the 40th. Donald Trump claims credit at every turn, having turned personal branding into great financial and political fortune. Of late he’s been claiming credit for saving thousands of American jobs.

Trump’s political opponents object that he’s vastly inflated his own influence on decisions that were already made. They say that by Twitter-trolling corporate CEOs, he’s politicizing business decisions

This may all be true. But if you believe, like Reagan, that results are what really matter, who cares if Trump gets the credit – as long as he gets the blame if things don’t work out.

Consider the decision announced by Ford Motor Co. this week that it was abandoning plans to build a new factory in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to build its Focus models. Trump had made a big deal of this during the campaign, threatening to impose a 35 percent tariff on Mexican-made cars imported into the United States.

He couldn’t really do this by himself, of course, but it was effective campaign rhetoric. Ford got the message, sort of. Instead of building a new plant in Mexico, it will shift production of the Focus to an existing plant in Mexico. It will spend about half the savings on building electric vehicles and self-driving cars in Michigan and Illinois, adding 700 new jobs.

Was Ford going to do this anyway? Yes, Ford executives told reporters. The company isn’t selling enough Focuses to justify a new plant. Does it hurt to give the new president a heads-up, as chairman Bill Ford did on Tuesday morning? Of course not.

Similarly, Trump’s announcement in December that he had convinced Sprint to bring back 5,000 call-center jobs to the United States was endorsed by Sprint Chairman Masayoshi Son – even though the decision had been made earlier. Telecoms like Sprint need a lot of government favor.

Now General Motors is in Trump’s sights. On Tuesday he criticized GM for importing some Chevrolet Cruze models from Mexico, tweeting that GM should pay a “big border tax” on the imports. In fact, GM builds most Cruze models in Lordstown, Ohio, and imports only 4,500 hatchback models into the U.S.

But GM is planning layoffs in Lordstown because of slowing sales even as it plans to expand SUV production in Mexico. Trump’s dabbling with GM’s cost structure could make Toyota and Nissan, GM’s Japanese competitors, very happy.

He may not care, as long as he gets the credit.

Editor’s note: This editorial was published Sunday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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