Whenever Donald Trump tweets to brag or take credit for something, double-check it first. There’s a good chance it might be overstated.
Case in point: Last night, Trump patted himself on the back for helping stop a Ford plant in Kentucky from moving to Mexico:
Just got a call from my friend Bill Ford, Chairman of Ford, who advised me that he will be keeping the Lincoln plant in Kentucky - no Mexico— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2016
I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky. I owed it to the great State of Kentucky for their confidence in me!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2016
But this is a bit misleading. Ford wasn’t ever planning to move a “Lincoln plant” from Kentucky to Mexico — only a single production line, in a move that wouldn’t have cost any jobs.
Here’s what actually happened: Ford has two plants in Kentucky that produce Lincoln vehicles. There’s the Kentucky Truck Plant, which produces (among other things) the Lincoln Navigator. And there’s the Louisville Assembly Plant, which mostly produces Ford Escapes, but also currently builds the Lincoln MKC, a compact utility vehicle.
Ford had long aimed to keep both plants in Kentucky for the foreseeable future. The company did, however, have plans to reconfigure the Louisville Assembly Plant by 2018. That would involve ramping up production of Ford Escapes there and shifting assembly of the Lincoln MKC down to Mexico. Yet the Louisville plant was going to remain open, and union leaders said they didn’t expect any job losses in Kentucky from the shift.
So that’s what’s at issue here. In a statement, Ford clarified that they’d told Trump they were now keeping Lincoln MKC production in Louisville: “Today, we confirmed with the President-elect that our small Lincoln utility vehicle made at the Louisville Assembly Plant will stay in Kentucky.” It’s unclear whether Trump understood the difference between that statement and what he tweeted.
In interviews with the Wall Street Journal, sources close to Ford’s CEO said that he saw the Lincoln MKC move as a “relatively painless” way to placate Trump, who has long criticized the company for investing in Mexico, where wages are lower. (The idea that businesses feel the need to placate Trump is a little worrisome in its own right, as Matt Yglesias points out here.)
In any case, as Matt McDermott pointed out on Twitter, there’s no reason for news outlets to publish misleading headlines that let Trump take credit for saving a plant that wasn’t going to leave Kentucky in the first place:
Every single one of these headlines is completely wrong, easily fact checked, and peddling a fake news story spread by the president-elect. pic.twitter.com/vsE41hFjZw— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) November 18, 2016
That’s especially true given that Trump has a history of dubious claims like this. Last October, Trump tried to take credit for stopping Ford from building a $2.5 billion plant in Mexico and shifting production to Ohio instead. But this was wrong. Ford is still very much building the plant in Mexico. And the deal that Ford reached to save auto jobs in Ohio was made back in 2011 — long before Trump announced his run for president.
As Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post pointed out when she sifted through those earlier claims: “there's just one problem with Trump's self-congratulatory victory lap -- it's based on inaccurate information, likely sourced to an article posted on a Web site of a print shop that sells business cards, door hangers and postcards.”
— Note, meanwhile, that Ford is still moving all of its small-car production to Mexico, despite Trump’s criticisms.
— Credit to Jim Tankersley at Wonkblog for being one of the first reporters to dig into this “Lincoln plant” business. He’s providing further updates on Twitter.
— Here’s some background on how the North American auto industry has been gradually shifting to Mexico over time. Here’s a closer look at what would happen if Donald Trump tried to pull out of NAFTA. It’s not as easy as it sounds.