Opinion writer

Last summer, Wisconsin’s then-governor, Scott Walker, announced a deal for Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn to open a factory in his state, and like so many such deals, it came with gigantic tax incentives. Although it was extremely controversial, Walker insisted that the 13,000 jobs Foxconn was promising would be worth the billions of taxpayer dollars he offered the company.

President Trump took credit for it. As The Post reported at the time, White House officials were “ebullient” about the deal and even stressed that Trump himself negotiated it with the company’s chairman.

The consummate dealmaker made a deal, and now the benefits would rain down on the good people of Wisconsin, right? Well, not so much:

A major jobs deal President Trump has touted with former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker now looks uncertain: Foxconn, a supplier for Apple and other technology firms, says it’s scrapping plans to build a giant new factory in Wisconsin, opting to hire American engineers and researchers instead of a promised fleet of blue-collar workers.

“In Wisconsin we’re not building a factory,” Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn chief executive Terry Gou, told Reuters. “You can’t use a factory to view our Wisconsin investment.”

The Taiwanese technology juggernaut initially pledged in 2017 to construct a $10 billion liquid-crystal 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, the firm said — a solid salary in the manufacturing realm.

In exchange, Wisconsin agreed to give Foxconn at least $3 billion in state tax credits and breaks, according to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a public-private agency that helped negotiate the package. The deal was much criticized at the time after it emerged that Wisconsin would not make money for 25 years.

There are many lessons here, not least about the dangers of the race to the bottom that attracting businesses has become, with every state, county and city offering more and more giveaways in an effort to get a few hundred or a few thousand jobs to move in. But it also tells us something about how misconceived Trump’s view of the economy was when he ran for president and the difficulties he’ll have when he runs for reelection next year.

Let’s look at another case, that of a Carrier plant in Indiana where Trump supposedly “saved” 1,100 jobs. In December 2016, he and Mike Pence negotiated with that company another supposedly great deal, this one to stop those jobs from being sent to Mexico where labor is cheaper. Trump announced it triumphantly, as an example of the kind of dealmaking wizardry he would bring to the U.S. economy as a whole.

And what happened? Hundreds of workers got laid off anyway.

The issue, however, was and is much larger than a factory here and a factory there, even if that might mean everything to the people who work there. The problem is that successful management of the economy, to the extent the president has the power to do it at all, isn’t a matter of picking up the phone in the Oval Office and making a series of “deals.”

First, the economy is obviously way too large for each individual deal to make an impact nationally in a country with a labor force of more than 160 million people. What the president can do is set policy. And what has Trump done? He has certainly let industry run roughshod over environmental, employment and worker safety regulations. Most importantly, he pushed for and signed an enormous tax break for corporations, which was sold on the basis that it would quickly trickle down to workers. But a recent survey of businesses showed only 6 percent of them saying they hired workers because of their windfall; instead, the money went into record stock buybacks to benefit wealthy shareholders.

Trump also started a trade war with China that he insisted would lead to an explosion of U.S. exports. We're still waiting, while retaliatory tariffs are hurting American farmers. Oh, and his shutdown cost the economy $11 billion.

Nevertheless, unemployment is still low, with job growth continuing on the trajectory set during the Barack Obama years. So that’s something Trump can tout. What he can’t say, however, is that he has addressed the more fundamental problems people feel in their work lives: insecurity, stagnant wages, lack of power on the job, high health insurance costs and more. Anybody may be able to get a job somewhere, but if that job comes with low wages and meager benefits, you won’t exactly be jumping for joy over the economy the president supposedly created for you.

Which leads to this question: When Trump comes before the public to ask for another term, what's the story he'll tell about the economy? That his unparalleled dealmaking prowess led to prosperity of a kind the United States has never seen before? That's what he says if you read his Twitter feed, but like much of what he says, it has zero relationship to reality.

There is no number of deals Trump can do that will make any real difference to American workers; instead, he has offered the same old Republican economic policies that have been tried and failed so many times before. So in 2020, when he says, “Reelect me, and you’ll get so many great deals that America will become a paradise of prosperity,” who’s going to believe him?

Read more:

Catherine Rampell: The risks of a recession are rising — and Trump might be to blame

Paul Waldman: Trump’s corruption keeps getting more obvious

The Post’s View: Trump sparked a crisis with China. Now he should make the most of it.

Paul Waldman: Is there anything Trump touches that isn’t corrupt?

Jennifer Rubin: We’re now seeing the Trump economy