NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — When President Trump took the stage here Friday to mark the launch of Boeing's newest aircraft, it was a scene reminiscent of his airplane hangar rallies during the presidential campaign.
Except, instead of his “Trump” branded Boeing 757 parked in the background, Boeing's newest product, the Dreamliner 787-10, glittered in the sun behind him, and off to the side stood Trump's new ride, Air Force One.
Trump's somewhat unusual appearance at the launch event for the company's highly anticipated version 10 of the Dreamliner wasn't to roll out new economic policy or even push a specific economic agenda item. Instead, it seemed that Trump was there to boost the company with a presidential endorsement for its American-made fleet, and he in turn would be the face of a major milestone for one of the country’s largest job creators.
“We’re here today to celebrate American engineering and American manufacturing,” Trump said. “We’re also here today to celebrate jobs. Jobs!”
“Jobs is one of the primary reasons I’m standing here as president, and I will never ever disappoint you. Believe me,” he added.
Trump's visit to the Boeing plant also comes at a time when the Trump administration is struggling to establish a greater sense of order and focus after weeks of distractions and negative headlines.
The White House has aimed to structure his daily schedule with at least one jobs-focused meeting each day. But much of that has been overshadowed by several all-consuming stories, the most damaging of which was the ouster of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, on Monday.
Questions about the Trump administration and campaign’s ties to Russia have only intensified after multiple media reports revealed that Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, despite Flynn's statements to the contrary.
Friday’s event on the manufacturing floor of Boeing’s South Carolina plant offered Trump a much-needed opportunity to reset his administration and refocus an economic-based message.
“You look at what’s happening with jobs. You look at what's happening with plants moving back to this country. All of a sudden they’re coming back,” Trump said. “As your president, I’m going to do everything that I can to unleash the power of the American spirit and put our great people back to work.
“This is our mantra, buy American and hire American.”
A few months ago, it seemed that Trump’s relationship with Boeing was on the rocks before it even really began.
As president-elect, Trump launched into a Twitter fight with the company and its chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, over the cost of a new fleet of presidential airplanes that would be used as Air Force One. Quickly, Boeing relented, promising to bring down the plane’s costs after meetings with Trump.
Less than a month into his presidency, Trump is back to Boeing on a decidedly more positive note.
“That plane, as beautiful as it looks, is 30 years old,” Trump said, pointing to the Boeing 747 that serves as Air Force One. “What can look so beautiful at 30?”
The turnabout is emblematic of Trump’s preferred mode of dealing with America’s largest and most powerful businesses. It reflects the degree to which Trump has already changed the terms of engagement with the business community, quickly creating an incentive structure where businesses are rewarded with praise from the highest office in the land when they roll out jobs or cost savings for taxpayers — and credit him for influencing their decision-making.
Over the past several weeks, chief executives including Intel's Brian Krzanich traveled to the White House to announce new American jobs, thanks to fresh “confidence” in the economy spurred by the new administration.
“They’re keeping and bringing thousands of jobs back to our country because the business climate, they know, has already changed,” Trump said, highlighting jobs announcements from automakers Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler. “We will see more and more of that across the country as we continue to work on reducing regulations, cutting taxes — including for the middle class, including for everyone, and including for businesses.”
In this setting, Trump seems at his most comfortable.
Here, Trump reveled in his electoral victory and the adulation of a supportive crowd in a state that he won in both the Republican primary and the general election.
“This was going to be a place that was tough to win, and we won in a landslide,” Trump declared.
As the restive crowd of Boeing employees waited for hours for Trump to arrive, some cheered when his name was mentioned in the preshow. “Make America Great Again” hats and T-shirts dotted the sea of people on the plant’s manufacturing floor where more than 5,000 employees were gathered.
He toured the new Dreamliner with Boeing executives and could be seen sitting in the plane's cockpit after his speech.
On Saturday, Trump plans something of a repeat performance in what the White House is dubbing the first “campaign” event of his presidency, at an airplane hangar rally in Melbourne, Fla.
Among some Boeing employees, the reception to Trump was reserved, but optimistic.
Leif Anderson, who started working at the factory six years ago after leaving the Air Force, sat Thursday night at the bar at Domino Lounge, a pool hall three miles from the Boeing plant, smoking cigarillos and sipping a shot of Crown Royal apple whiskey alongside a glass of Bud Lite.
Anderson said he voted for Trump more out of loyalty to the Republican Party, but is “not jumping to conclusions” about the president as a leader.
“I'm really curious to see what he does,” said Anderson, who leads a group of workers at the Boeing plant installing the planes' interiors. He hopes that Trump's economic policies succeed, which he said would help his own career along with the country as a whole.
“If he does good, then I'm going to do good,” Anderson said.
Elliott Slater, a Boeing mechanic, took the day off Friday and did not attend Trump's speech, saying he wanted to avoid the traffic.
“I didn't vote for him, either.” said Slater, a veteran of the Navy. “He's not my president. He's got to earn my respect.”
Slater, who supported the union's unsuccessful vote to organize the plant in Wednesday's election, said that Trump would support companies over workers. “He’s definitely pro businesses, being a business man himself. … That’s fine, but you know, how does the business treat its workers?”