Liberal talking heads are currently reveling in Kentucky Democratic Governor-Elect Andy Beshear’s apparent (albeit narrow) victory over KY Republican Governor Matt Bevin. While I understand a certain amount of liberal chortling – President Trump held a big rally in Kentucky the night before the election, unwisely declaring that the outcome would be a referendum on him — Gov. Bevin’s electoral weakness in a solid Republican state, although particularly heartening to a couple of readers of these pages literally or viscerally closer to the Bluegrass State than I am, was seemingly due to local issues related to his abrasive manner and the state’s public teachers’ organized and spirited opposition. I don’t think any pundit is opining that even a centrist Democratic presidential nominee can win Kentucky’s Electoral College votes in 2020. Likewise, Alabama voters’ narrow 2017 selection of U.S. AL Sen. Doug Jones over former AL Chief Judge Roy Moore – the latter then facing multiple credible accusations of sexual misconduct – seems an understandable idiosyncratic result in an otherwise-solidly Republican state. As with Kentucky, I doubt any commentator considers Sen. Jones’ election a harbinger of electoral risk for any Republican presidential nominee in Alabama in 2020.
That said, Wisconsin’s 2020 Electoral College votes could in part hinge on a local issue because it is the rare local issue that can be tied directly to Mr. Trump. As most are well aware, in late June, 2018, to significant fanfare, Mr. Trump, together with Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou and such Republican luminaries as then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan and then-WI Gov. Scott Walker, broke ground for a Foxconn manufacturing plant in Mount Pleasant, WI, in the Racine/Kenosha southeastern corner of the state between Chicago and Milwaukee. Mr. Trump offered lengthy remarks at the ceremony (more on that below). Below this paragraph are links to three articles respectively published in July, September, and October of 2019, recounting: that Foxconn has reduced the number of jobs it projects for the facility from 13,000 to 1,500; that Foxconn has canceled the announced 20 million-square foot manufacturing facility while instead breaking ground on a 1 million-square-foot facility [with its announced operation commencement date to be at or about the time of the 2020 presidential election (wink, wink)]; that the implementation of Foxconn “Innovation Centers” around the state, projected to provide hundreds of sophisticated jobs, has been suspended; claims that Foxconn has a history of delivering a fraction of its promises and that the Mount Pleasant project is a “snow job”; and displacement of hundreds of homeowners allegedly “railroaded” by local governmental deceit.
On July 31, 2019, the W.E. Upjohn Institute issued a report, “Costs and Benefits of a Revised Foxconn Project,” in response to a request by the Wisconsin Department of Administration. A link to the report is below. The Upjohn analyst, Timothy Bartik, makes clear in the report that neither he nor Upjohn was compensated for the analysis. He indicates: that even a reduced Foxconn arrangement that follows the credit rates of the original arrangement would result in incentives to Foxconn in the range of $100K to $200K a job, compared with average U.S. incentives to prospective employers of $24K a job; that the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s report that the project would fiscally break even in 2042-43 was “incomplete and overly optimistic”; and that “the Foxconn deals are far greater than … the [recent] Amazon deals in New York or Virginia.” Mr. Bartik concludes:
“The most important conclusion of this analysis is that … a revised Foxconn incentive contract, which offers similar credit rates to the original contract, has … incentives [that] are so costly per job that it is hard to see how likely benefits will offset these costs.”
A link to the transcript of the June, 2018, Mount Pleasant groundbreaking ceremony attended by Messrs. Trump, Gou, Walker, and Ryan is included below (given what has transpired, it is not tinged, but rather drips, with irony).
Amongst his remarks, the President declared:
“Moments ago, we broke ground on a plant that will provide jobs for much more than 13,000 Wisconsin workers.”
“Terry [Gou] is a friend of mine and I recommended Wisconsin, in this case… this was something that just seemed right.”
“I said, ‘Terry, this place is such a great place.’ … And I said to Terry, ‘This would be an incredible place.’”
“So I had this incredible company going to invest someplace in the world — not [in the U.S.] necessarily. And I will tell you they wouldn’t have done it here, except that I became President …. And I immediately thought of the state of Wisconsin.”
Mr. Walker chimed in: “Well, thanks, Mr. President. As you mentioned, you got the ball rolling …. And we couldn’t be more proud to have [Foxconn] … in the state of Wisconsin.”
Given this apparently undisputable Foxconn fiasco, it would seem that any Democratic Presidential nominee should, by merely uttering, “Foxconn,” whenever entering Wisconsin, easily carry the state against Mr. Trump. It will obviously not be that simple.
An irrelevant but irresistible aside: in the transcript of the groundbreaking ceremony, one finds that the President also declared: “I just realized the other day, they told me — when we won the state of Wisconsin, it hadn’t been won by a Republican since [President] Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. Did you know that? And I won Wisconsin. And I like Wisconsin a lot, but we won Wisconsin. And Ronald Reagan — remember, Wisconsin was the state that Ronald Reagan did not win. And that was in 1952. [My emphasis].” (In fact, Mr. Eisenhower won Wisconsin again in 1956; Republican President Richard Nixon won Wisconsin in 1960 (in a losing effort), 1968, and 1972; and – certainly not least – Republican President Reagan carried Wisconsin in both 1980 and 1984.) The description of Mr. Trump coming to mind is that attributed to and never denied by former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson …