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Trump sells his presidential skills

The 22nd day of Donald Trump’s presidential transition brought something new: an infomercial for his deal-making skills. And the president-elect didn’t pay a dime for it.

As he fills his Cabinet with Wall Street billionaires and millionaires, Trump burnished his image as a champion of the working class when he touched down in the Rust Belt on Thursday for his first public appearance since his election night victory speech.

Around 2:30 p.m. eastern time, cable-TV networks, after weeks of live footage of people getting in and out of the gilded elevator in the Trump Tower lobby, cut in unison to a live shot of the president-elect walking down the stairs from his airplane on a blustery Indianapolis afternoon. A few moments later, they showed Trump, in a black suit and long red tie, walking around the floor of the Carrier factory near where the company had planned to move 1,100 jobs to Mexico until Trump got it to reconsider.

“Companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences,” Trump said during a news conference, also carried wall-to-wall by the networks, at the Carrier plant.

It marked the first stop on what will be a two-week victory tour that allows the president-elect to celebrate his shocking victory in last month’s election and bask in the embrace of his supporters more than three weeks after his last campaign rally. After his appearance in Indianapolis, he was headed to Cincinnati for an event expected to draw thousands of supporters.

But the self-celebratory aspect of Trump’s victory lap — ostensibly billed as a “thank you tour” — was his victory with Carrier, more a political and symbolic success for the president than the economic turnaround it’s being cast as.

Never mind the less glossy details of the deal — the fact that Indiana taxpayers will foot the bill for the $7 million in state tax incentives being provided to Carrier, or the new and likely unsustainable precedent of rewarding companies that threaten to go overseas, flying in the face of the free market principles conservatives have long held dear.

For Trump, the politics — and the imagery — are premium. The appearance of the president-elect following through almost immediately on his promise to negotiate, to get tough and do whatever necessary to restore manufacturing jobs in America’s heartland.

“There will be consequences for companies that go overseas,” Trump vowed. “These companies aren’t going to be leaving anymore. They’re not going to be taking people’s hearts out.”

Despite Trump’s emphatic language, Carrier is still moving 700 jobs to a plant in Mexico. That didn’t stop the president-elect from lauding the company, its executives and the workers he met on the factory floor, and predicting that Carrier will share in the positive short-term publicity he has managed to create around what is reportedly a $7 million deal over the next decade.

Trump told Carrier executives that if they incur some financial loss from keeping more jobs in American factories that they’re “going to make it up,” he said, “because so many people are going to be buying Carrier air conditioners.”

Before Trump took the podium, the vice president-elect, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, offered a hagiographic introduction, giving his boss almost complete credit for saving the Carrier jobs even though he and his associates appear to have done much of the heavy lifting.

Adopting Trump’s own preferred frame of winning and losing, Pence exclaimed: “Today America won, and we have Donald Trump to thank.”

As the details of the arrangement have emerged, critics on both sides of the political divide have questioned the precedent being set by a president intervening and bending over backward to appease a company threatening to move a relatively small number of jobs overseas.

Referencing Carrier’s parent company, Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote, “United Technologies took Trump hostage and won.” But his op-ed in The Washington Post and subsequent interviews on cable news made a much smaller media splash than Trump and his self-serving narrative, underlined by televised interviews with Carrier workers claiming that Trump “saved Christmas.” Thus far, workers at a second Carrier plant in Huntington, Indiana, which the company still plans to shutter and whose 700 jobs will be sent to Mexico, have not been interviewed.

Trump, meanwhile, hinted that additional tax relief for Carrier and other American businesses may be forthcoming as he outlined a plan to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent and to remove burdensome regulations that he claimed stifle economic growth.

During his freewheeling remarks, Trump spoke without a teleprompter and showed flashes of the stream-of-consciousness musings that marked many of his early rallies. Taking the podium, he immediately alighted on his oft-stated affinity for Indiana, recounting his important primary win there in May before moving on to an anecdote about the television news segment about Carrier that first caught his attention weeks ago—not without sprinkling in a characteristic broadside.

The live coverage rolled on.

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