Analysis

Trump gives himself starring role as a job creator, but critics call it a stretch

President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t even taken office yet but, according to his version of events he’s already been busy creating lots of jobs, particularly in the auto sector. Critics say many of these announcements had nothing to do with Trump.

Evidence scant for Trump's boasts about bringing jobs back to the U.S.

President-elect Donald Trump is taking credit for bringing jobs back from Mexico. Critics say his claims aren't based in reality. (L.M. Otero/Associated Press)

President-elect Donald Trump hasn't even started his new job yet. But he's already been busy creating lots of jobs, particularly in the auto sector. At least that's what his tweets imply.

Just yesterday, he took to Twitter to boast about "all of the jobs I am bringing back into the U.S. (even before taking office)" and "all of the new auto plants coming back."

Industry insiders say many of the jobs that Trump is taking credit for were already in the works and had nothing to do with him.

To critics, Trump is playing a masterful game, but so too are some companies. After he blasted automakers on Twitter for outsourcing jobs to Mexico, a number of them publicly announced previously planned investments in U.S. plants.

"The companies are finding ways to package decisions that they would have made anyway in ways that are appealing to Mr. Trump and that helps them," says Mark Phelan, auto critic with the Detroit Free Press.

Trump then joins the show on social media where he can put his own spin on the announcements. 

"What you're seeing is a president-elect with an enormous influence and a direct channel, using that to stage-produce his own story," says Ronald Alepian, senior vice-president of communications with National Public Relations in Toronto.

"It is a reality show, it is a well-orchestrated production."

The Apprentice, the reality TV show hosted for many years by Trump, introduced millions of Americans to the flamboyant self-promoter. (Ric Francis/Associated Press)

Trump stars as job creator

Trump's most recent tweet about job creation follows announcements by both GM and Hyundai yesterday that they're pouring more cash into U.S. plants.

But both automakers have reportedly stated that their plans aren't tied to Trump's recent rants about shifting production to Mexico.

"These are the kind of investments that they make on a routine basis," says Michelle Krebs, a Detroit-based senior analyst with Autotrader.

GM CEO Mary Barra said last week at the Detroit auto show that when auto manufacturers make new production plans, it's a long, drawn-out decision — one that would precede the recent U.S. election.

"This is a long-lead business with investment decisions made two, three, four years in advance of when they actually roll out," she said.

And yet Trump has continued to take credit for recent U.S. auto announcements while auto companies, eager to avoid his wrath, have quietly let him do it.  

A United Auto Workers assemblyman works on the Ford Mustang at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Mich. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

Earlier this month, Ford stated it was dropping plans to build a new U.S. plant in Mexico and will add 700 jobs at a Michigan factory to build high-tech vehicles.

Trump had repeatedly blasted the company for moving production out of the U.S. Following Ford's announcement, Trump implied that he was behind the new jobs that appeared to come as a result of the automaker's decision to ditch its latest expansion plans in Mexico. 

"Mr. Trump spoke of it in glowing terms as if it was a reversal of policy and leads to bringing jobs back to the United States," says Phelan.

But Ford stated in a news release that the vehicle production slated for the scrapped Mexican plant will simply be moved to an existing one — in Mexico.

In other words, says Phelan, "those jobs will not be coming to America."

The show must go on

But Trump's "reality show" about job creation continued. On the heels of Ford's news, Fiat Chrysler also announced that it would expand some of its U.S. factories, creating 2,000 more jobs.

That prompted Trump to suggest once again that he was somehow involved, thanking Ford and Fiat Chrysler as though they had done him a personal favour.

But at the Detroit auto show, Fiat Chrysler's CEO stated that Trump had not influenced its plans, which had been in the works since 2015.

"It wasn't sort of a pre-emptive strike against a tweet," said Sergio Marchionne.

In Trump's version of events, he also "worked hard" to prevent a Ford Kentucky auto plant from moving to Mexico. But critics say the plant was never in jeopardy of closing.

Phelan says Ford had instead cancelled a plan to move some production overflow at the plant to Mexico, deciding it wasn't necessary. The decision "had nothing to do with Trump," he says.

But according to Trump, his job creation powers spread across the auto industry and beyond. 

He also recently took credit for 8,000 new jobs announced last month, 5,000 with wireless carrier Sprint and 3,000 with satellite company OneWeb. But numerous reports claim, once again, that the jobs were part of a previously disclosed pledge by Japan's SoftBank Group, which holds stakes in both U.S. companies. 

When Trump becomes president this week, one can only expect that he will continue to take credit for jobs that he didn't necessarily have anything to do with.

Companies may then quietly reveal the true details. And, yet, the show will presumably go on, because, when Trump tweets the news, he gets to write his own script for a performance that everyone is watching.

"We are all part of a reality show or a production where he is the writer and the producer and the director," says Alepian, the public relations expert.

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca Twitter:

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