Trump’s Charm of Not Being Obama
The new White House won’t fail to embrace the jobs that fracking and pipelines can bring.
Barack Obama will retire a president personally popular with the American people yet who served them (and himself, and his party) badly.
He fretted in 2012 that he would lose the election just in time for Mitt Romney to get credit for an Obama recovery. That long-delayed recovery is finally coming in the last months of his administration—the economy finally broke 3% growth in the third quarter—and now Mr. Trump will get the credit.
He may even deserve a bit, witness the outbreak of Trumpian optimism in the stock market and small-business hiring plans.
Mr. Obama came in saying fossil fuels were running out and prices were destined to rise, and instead got the fracking revolution, whose related employment boost was arguably a factor in his re-election victories in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Yet he couldn’t stop looking this gift horse in the mouth.
Unshrewdly, in the name of satisfying his climate-change constituents, he needlessly launched a regulatory war against coal as cheap natural gas was already doing the job for him. Result: Democrats became the enemy in coal country.
He pandered to his green friends on the Keystone XL pipeline. Result: Mr. Trump is inheriting a rebound in natural gas fracking and an associated infrastructure boom that is just now heating up again in time for an incoming administration to get credit.
Natural gas fracking is the force reawakening manufacturing opportunity in the Rust Belt, timed perfectly for Mr. Trump’s arrival.
Holding back development was not the depressed gas price—that’s what attracts manufacturers—but the lack of infrastructure, specifically pipelines, to get the gas to prospective plant sites. Blame Mr. Obama and his Keystone theatrics.
A Brazilian company, Braskem, just opted to build a $500 million plastics plant in Texas, not Philadelphia—home to 85% Obama voters—for one reason only: lack of pipeline infrastructure.
Mr. Obama, notice, pays this price for climate gestures that were purely symbolic, having no impact on climate, and especially purblind given gas’s role in reducing U.S. CO2 emissions.
His climate gestures were destined not to survive his presidency in any case. All he did was shoot himself, his party and American workers in the foot.
Mr. Obama paid lip service to tax reform, the giant dividend from which will now be collected, yes, by Mr. Trump.
His Iran deal was supposed to reveal Mr. Obama as a bold, creative, unblinkered foreign-policy innovator. For better or worse, Mr. Trump is already on a path to revise America’s relations with the world in far more daring fashion.
One dividend may already be coming in, judging by Saudi Arabia’s surprise decision this week to wave the white flag in its price war against fracking. America no longer is a country that benefits from low oil prices. All the indicators are turning up: rig count, “frac sand” prices, the share prices of domestic energy pioneers like Chesapeake and Oneok.
A Rust Belt renaissance that might have recaptured for Democrats the lost love of the American worker will become a halo for Team Trump instead. Shell is going ahead with a $6 billion petrochemical plant on the site of an old zinc smelter on the Ohio River in hard-hit Appalachia.
The plant, known as Shell Appalachia, will generate 6,000 construction jobs for several years, plus 600 full-time plant jobs, plus thousands more jobs indirectly for companies that make plastics, steel pipe, sound proofing for gas compressors, pickup trucks, housing etc., etc.
A Thai company is eyeing a second giant ethylene plant nearby in eastern Ohio. Guess who will get credit for lifting the fortunes of a region presidents have been promising to help since Kennedy?
Mr. Obama was too blinded by his shibboleths, his own brand of political correctness, to let good things happen in a way that would let him take credit for them.
He failed to lean in favor of things that were working—like fracking, like corporate America’s steady effort to encourage more consumer involvement in disciplining health-care costs, which ObamaCare might have borrowed from.
Mr. Trump can still screw things up. His trade-war talk, his eagerness to meddle in plant-siting decisions, could be poisonous to a gas-fueled manufacturing boom conspicuously linked to the world.
Fully 60% of the $170 billion in planned petrochemical investments tied to fracking now in the works are funded by overseas investors. These investors come because they think of America as a lawful, trustworthy place to do business.
But Mr. Trump, our new dealmaker-in-chief, also has a pragmatic streak as big as Manhattan’s Trump Tower. He will make mistakes but here’s betting they won’t be Mr. Obama’s mistakes of smug obliviousness.