Donald Trump hasn’t set foot in Atlanta since April, but the president’s insatiable appetite for attention has done what PlayStation hasn’t. At least not yet.
Via Twitter and actual policy, Trump has become a virtual reality in our midst, roiling not just Georgia politics, but the state’s business climate as well.
Decisions abound: Do you engage or avoid, join or oppose? Recent days have brought three case studies to the foreground.
We begin with Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines. Last December, Bastian pronounced himself “very encouraged” by Trump’s emphasis on fair trade. Delta has long pointed at airlines in the Middle East, complaining that government subsidies, and in some cases outright ownership, pose an unfair advantage.
After a White House visit in February, Bastian declared himself still satisfied with the administration’s attitude “on issues important to Delta, our employees and our customers.” Early this month, the Delta CEO praised the White House’s tax reform proposal, sight unseen.
Last week, Delta found itself on the wrong side of Trump’s “America First” theory of economics. The airline has negotiated to purchase to purchase 75 jets from Bombardier, a Canadian aircraft manufacturer.
The Boeing Co., an American firm, has accused Bombardier of “dumping” its aircraft on the U.S. market. And Delta’s jets now might carry a tariff of nearly 300 percent, courtesy of Trump and the U.S. Commerce Department.
Suddenly, a $25 million jet could cost the corporate giant $100 million. Multiply that times 75, and soon you’re talking real money. As in $5 billion and more.
“We will not pay those tariffs, and that is very clear,” Bastian said Tuesday. “We intend to take the aircraft. I can’t tell you how it’s going to eventually work out.”
As Delta’s relationship with Trump has taken a turn, so has Bastian’s language.
Only a day earlier, the CEO addressed the Hispanic Corporate Council of Atlanta, emphasizing the 49 percent stake that Delta now has in Aeromexico. Bastian never mentioned Trump. Just his wall.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do with the wall they keep talking about, but we’re going to fly over that damn thing, whatever it is,” Bastian said Monday.
“There’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear that cuts into the heart of who we are as a society. It’s caused a lot of people to wonder what’s going on and where are we going,” he said.
Case No. 2 involves Councilwoman Mary Norwood. The Atlanta race for mayor is formally nonpartisan. That said, the Atlanta voters who live in Fulton County, arguably more conservative as a group than those who live in DeKalb, gave Democrat Hillary Clinton 86 percent of their votes last November, to 16 percent for Trump.
Clinton won every ward in the city, including GOP-dominated District 8.
Norwood may be the frontrunner in polls, but her lead is slipping. The Democratic Party of Georgia is already attempting to wrap Norwood in Republican cellophane, as it did eight years ago. Should she make it to the run-off, Norwood must know that her rival will try to drape Trump around her neck, too.
And so it was a surprise to see video of a Monday forum in which Norwood bobbled a simple question: What do you think about Donald Trump?
“We have a president,” she said on a second try, careful not to mention names, and indulging in relaxed syntax. “I am telling you that I do not support those policies. I am saying to this audience that I do not support any policies that are bigotry, that are racism, that are in any way related to –“
The crowd cut her off.
Fortunately, forums in the Atlanta race for mayor aren’t hard to come by. On Thursday morning, in a debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club, Norwood first made sure to say that she voted for Clinton last November. Then she expressed disappointment with Trump, though not by name.
“The first year in office has been disappointing to many citizens in this country. The policies that have come out of this administration have not been policies, for the most part, that I have agreed with at all,” she said. “But I will say this – I will work closely to get the right policies for Atlanta.”
In Case No. 3, we have Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and a dog that hasn’t barked. Not yet.
Cagle, one of several Republicans in the 2018 hunt for governor, would no doubt argue that he’s a strong and faithful supporter of President Trump. But last month, Alabama taught us that this is not necessarily enough.
U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, an incumbent Republican in good standing with both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was soundly defeated by twice-ousted Supreme Court jurist Roy Moore in the Alabama GOP primary runoff.
Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist who helped orchestrate Moore’s victory, now stalks the land — promising a nationwide pitchfork revolution within the Republican party. On Trump’s behalf.
This week, the Cagle campaign made public an internal poll that it bought and paid for. We don’t normally put much stock in such things, but the survey of 600 GOP primary voters, conducted Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, helps explain why beads of sweat aren’t popping out on the lieutenant governor’s forehead.
Trump scored extremely well, but so did Gov. Nathan Deal. As did Cagle, who was first elected lieutenant governor in 2006. A large majority say the state is on the “right track.”
In other words, at least according to the Cagle campaign, Breitbart fever has yet to infect Georgia.
And none of Cagle’s rivals — Secretary of State Brian Kemp, state Sen. Michael Williams of Cumming, former state senator Hunter Hill of Atlanta, and Clay Tippins of Cobb County — have so far consolidated the pitchfork vote.
But it’s still early. By the time a June runoff rolls around, this race, too, is likely to be as volatile as Donald Trump’s Twitter account.
Perhaps, in part, because of Donald Trump’s Twitter account.