President Trump loved to claim credit for Foxconn’s $10 billion plan to build a factory in Wisconsin. He attended the summer groundbreaking. He even said it happened “only because of me.”
And so when the pact began unraveling this week, with Foxconn, one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers, saying it had changed its mind, the news raced across the Midwest and landed with a familiar thud at the United Steelworkers union office for Carrier workers in Indianapolis.
Two years earlier, Trump had traveled to the Carrier furnace plant to declare he had personally saved all of the jobs from outsourcing to Mexico. Robert James, union president, watched the whole thing unfold. And he knew the truth. Only 730 factory jobs would stay. An additional 550 people were let go.
Now James saw what was happening with Foxconn.
“The president bragged about it, and now he’s gotta choke on it,” James said. “It turns out to be another lie.”
Then Friday brought yet another twist. Foxconn flip-flopped, saying that a “personal conversation” with Trump had changed the electronics maker’s mind and that it would build the factory after all.
“Great news on Foxconn in Wisconsin after my conversation with Terry Gou!” Trump tweeted in apparent response.
Neither the company nor the White House shared the details of the conversation, or when hiring might start.
All presidents like to boast about jobs and economic development. But Trump has taken this kind of political salesmanship to a new level, standing out for the frequency and ferocity of his claims — sometimes taking credit where none is due.
He points not just to broad economic measures like gross domestic product, but to announcements from individual companies as validations of his presidency. He seizes on corporate investment news from General Motors, Fiat or Apple and uses it in tweets and for rally applause lines.
“It can be a risky move,” said Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington who has been struck by Trump’s unusual focus on the hiring decisions of particular firms.
That risk has become increasingly visible the longer Trump is president, as political pressure to deliver good news gives way to changing economic realities and shifting times.
That’s what happened after President-elect Trump met with Chinese millionaire Jack Ma in early 2017. They’d be working together, Trump said, to bring 1 million small-business jobs to the United States.
“Jack and I are going to do some great things,” Trump told reporters.
Ma, the head of Chinese e-commerce titan Alibaba, said he wanted to work with Trump to help Americans outside big cities sell things online.
But Ma’s pledge collapsed last September. He said the trade war between Washington and Beijing had ruined it. “There’s no way to complete the promise,” Ma told the Chinese state-controlled news agency Xinhua. His critics wondered if the promise had ever been serious, anyway.
After months of Trump boasting about General Motors’s plans to invest in the United States, the automaker said in November that it planned to slash its North American workforce by 15 percent. About 1,500 people stand to lose their jobs next month in Lordstown, Ohio .Lordstown is where GM makes the soon-to-be discontinued Chevrolet Cruze.
“The president came here and said, ‘We’re going to keep jobs here, don’t sell your house,’ and nothing has been less true,” said David Green, president of the UAW Local 1112 at the GM complex in Lordstown.
GM has enjoyed hundreds of million of dollars in windfall after Trump and GOP lawmakers slashed corporate tax rates in late 2017, Green added.
“If that was supposed to help American workers,” he said, “that’s not happening here.”
Companies recognize Trump’s desire to have something to tout.
So Intel’s decision to restart a dormant project in 2017 resulted in a made-for-TV visit to the Oval Office. With cameras rolling and Trump at his desk, the head of the chipmaker announced that the firm was restarting construction of a $7 billion factory in Chandler, Ariz. The Intel executive held up one of the ultrathin silicon wafers his company makes. Trump was pleased.
Again and again, Trump touted that February 2017 announcement — just as he touted announcements by GM, Alibaba and Carrier. A few months later, he rattled off recent announcements from Ford, GM and Intel to claim he had been told those things happened only because of him.
“The press never writes that,” he said in an Associated Press interview.
But an Intel spokesman said Thursday that the company had been planning for months to restart construction at what’s known as its Fab 42 plant.
And Trump was the second president to tout the project.
In 2012, President Barack Obama visited Fab 42’s construction site — soaking in the glow of the major investment. But the project was soon mothballed — Intel felt market conditions were not right — only to be resurrected five years later.
The Foxconn deal is only the latest one to fall apart.
The Taiwanese technology giant had pledged to build a $10 billion display-panel plant and create up to 13,000 jobs in the state’s southeastern corner over the next 15 years. The positions would pay an average annual wage of $53,000, Foxconn said at the time. The jobs were supposed to be primarily factory roles — a hiring explosion billed as a blue-collar revival.
Then on Wednesday, that vision appeared to go up in flames. Foxconn sharply pivoted, saying global economic forces — ones the company did not specify — had forced it to rethink the Wisconsin plant.
As of Friday morning, Trump hasn’t tweeted about Foxconn’s change of heart.