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Trump's Carrier boasts become an unexpected political headache

Remember Donald Trump's public-relations coup at a Carrier plant in Indiana? He'd probably prefer you forget it.
President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence wave as they visit to Carrier factory, Dec. 1, 2016, in Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)
President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence wave as they visit to Carrier factory, Dec. 1, 2016, in Indianapolis, Ind.

Following up on a story I've been keeping an eye on, during the presidential transition period, Donald Trump claimed one notable achievement. The Republican, following through on a promise he made on the campaign trail, announced in late November that he’d reached an agreement with Carrier that would keep hundreds of jobs in Indiana.

It sounded great, but even at the time, the boasts came with fine print. Trump exaggerated the number of jobs saved, rewarded a company with taxpayer money that was closing a plant and shipping jobs to Mexico, and fudged the facts about how many of the saved jobs will be eliminated anyway.

CNBC reported yesterday that the story looks even worse now.

More than 600 employees at a Carrier plant in Indianapolis are bracing for layoffs beginning next month, despite being told by President Trump that nearly all the jobs at the plant had been saved. [...]In fact, after the layoffs are complete later this year, a few hundred union jobs will remain at the plant. But that is far different from what then-President-elect Trump said just three weeks after the election.

Indeed, as the Washington Post recently reported, Trump said there was a "100 percent chance" he would save the jobs at the plant. "Carrier stepped it up, and now they're keeping over 1,100 people," Trump said in December. Trump added, "And by the way, that number is going to go up substantially as they expand this area, this plant. The 1,100 is going to be a minimum number."

And while this looked at the time like a public-relations coup for the president, we now know the boasts weren't true. Trump was counting hundreds of engineering and technical jobs that were never scheduled to be cut, and he ended up misleading plant workers whose jobs are now being outsourced.

Soon after, Trump traveled to a Boeing factory in South Carolina, his first outside-the-Beltway visit to a business after his inauguration. "We're here to day to celebrate American engineering and American manufacturing," he said at the time. "We're also here today to celebrate jobs. Jobs!"

This factory is now laying off workers, too.

As we discussed several weeks ago, the White House and its allies will likely argue that it's not fair to hold this president -- or any president -- directly responsible for various companies' business decisions about jobs at a couple of individual plants. The scrutiny simply isn't reasonable.

And at face value, that's a compelling argument. The United States has a massive economy in which jobs are created and lost every day, as some companies thrive and others suffer. The power of the presidency is considerable, but blaming (or crediting) an administration for every round of layoffs (or new hires) is folly.

But in Trump's case, it's a little more complicated. He not only made hundreds of Carrier workers a "100 percent" guarantee he didn't understand, he also spent months pointing to various companies' job announcements as proof of his economic genius. In nearly every instance, those private-sector announcements reflected business decisions made during the Obama era, but Trump didn't care: if a major corporation was expanding its workforce, the Republican president felt entitled to credit.

We're now seeing the flip-side.