Trump's populist showmanship on full display in Carrier deal

Op-ed: How much is the presidency that Donald Trump has just won worth to him?

How much is the presidency that Donald Trump has just won worth to him?

That's the tantalizing question he faces as pressures mount to divest himself of his immense real-estate and other stock holdings as the price of moving into the Oval Office next month.

Mr. Trump has said he will reveal in two weeks how he will deal with major questions of conflict of interest involved in assuming the presidency while running his business empire.

He has said conflict-of-interest laws don't apply to presidents but also that he wants to "formalize something" that will satisfy critics about his intention to put his real-estate empire in the hands of his children.

A lengthy examination by the Washington Post of his available business portfolio as of last May indicates it also amounts to at least $40 million in stocks beyond his luxury hotel network known as The Trump Organization.

The securities holdings, according to the Post, include stock in such financial powerhouses as Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo and oil and energy giants Halliburton, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and Phillips 66.

The Post has noted that the president-elect must also comply with a 2012 law called the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. It requires all elected officials to disclose stock trades of $1,000 or more within 45 days of such transactions.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump on Thursday took the first concrete step in fulfilling a campaign promise by launching a post-election "victory tour" with a visit to the Carrier Co. heating and air-conditioning plant in Indianapolis, which has partially reversed plans to close and move workers to Mexico.

He took credit for intervening, getting the owners to keep open the furnace plant there and 1,100 workers on the job. Indiana, where Vice President-elect Mike Pence is still governor until Jan. 20, will provide a $7 million tax break as part of the package, which is also to include a new Carrier investment of $16 million in the plant.

At the same time, however, according to the Post, some 300 to 600 Carrier jobs there will be lost along with about 700 at another nearby plant. Mr. Trump took the occasion to declare that "companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences."

This hands-on presidential engagement — a carrot-and-stick deal similar to how Mr. Trump has operated in his successful real-estate empire — was quickly applauded by House Speaker Paul Ryan. He said the deal was "pretty darn good that people are keeping their jobs in Indiana instead of going to Mexico."

Mr. Ryan's rapid response was an indication that his earlier coolness and distance from Mr. Trump has given way to the prospect of early cooperation between the impending Republican White House and the continued GOP control of Congress.

The outcome was also a confirmation of Mr. Trump's resort to news-media coverage, especially via television, to seize the spotlight for himself and his agenda. He said he had decided to intervene personally after seeing on an evening news show a worker saying he hoped the president-elect would do so.

Afterward, Mr. Trump said of his stepping in: "I think it's presidential, and if it's not presidential, that's OK because I actually enjoy doing it." He signaled there would be more of such intervention from the Oval Office, adding that "we're going to have a lot of phone calls made to companies when they say they're leaving this country, because they're not going to leave this country."

This personal intervention, as unorthodox as it appeared to be, was in keeping with what Mr. Trump the candidate promised in the campaign, to the delight of huge crowds he attracted across the nation.

It augurs much more of the same as this supremely self-confident political outsider indicates already that he intends to continue relying on his mastery of the art of the deal to achieve what he so boldly and confidently assured he would deliver as president.

So, fellow Americans, hold onto your hats. It figures to be a helluva ride.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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