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With Carrier, Trump goes for the 'Hollywood ending'

American actor and director Marlon Brando meeting some other dock workers on a bank in the film On the Waterfront.
Mondadori Portfolio | Getty Images
American actor and director Marlon Brando meeting some other dock workers on a bank in the film On the Waterfront.

One of the first things good screenwriters learn to do is personalize their stories. Want to write a great movie script about a war? Then don't make it about troop movements and artillery batteries, make it about the heroic and tragic stories of a few soldiers and the women they love. Journalists often need to do the same thing. Want to write a great story about the economy?

Then don't make it about GDP figures and charts, tell us a story about a group of workers, or maybe just one worker and her family and all the dramatic ups and downs of their financial fortunes. It may sound too much like Hollywood movie making, but it works.

But you knew that already. Even though neither one of the above "good stories" is necessarily educational, they are essentially better because the chances people will watch, read, and remember them are exponentially greater than articles or videos filled with cold, inhuman data. And here's something you may have already known too: the same is true for politics, especially since politics has always been more about emotions than facts anyway.

That's the shrewd political logic behind President-elect Donald Trump's deliberately overly-publicized deal to keep about 1,000 jobs at air conditioner maker Carrier here in the United States. The economists and other experts pouring cold water on this deal are forgetting the essential human element in effective storytelling and politics.

Each one of those Indiana-native Carrier workers who will keep their jobs thanks to this deal is worth an infinite number of positive reports about the post-Trump election stock market rally or the GDP finally breaking above 3 percent. It's a real Main Street story that not only everyone can understand, but also relate to.

That's why you can expect to hear more Carrier-like stories in the coming weeks and months. As CNBC's Phil LeBeau reported Wednesday, other companies planning to move operations to Mexico like Rexnord Bearings, Cardone, LMI Aerospace, Manitowoc Foodservice, might be next to either work out a deal with the Trump team to stay in the U.S. or at least keep some jobs here.

It doesn't matter whether many Americans have heard of any of those companies, the story of "saving U.S. jobs," says it all.

But that political windfall the Trump team can reap from these kinds of stories comes in two additionally crucial packages. First, remember that Trump and his economic team do indeed have sweeping economic plans based heavily on big tax cuts. History shows that those kinds of cuts do indeed spur the economy, but it usually takes some time.

In the case of the Reagan administration, the big tax cuts he enacted in 1981 didn't start to show real positive signs until more than two years later. In fact, the public's perception of the economy was still so negative in December of 1983, that Reagan was actually statistically tied with Walter Mondale in a national Gallup poll taken during that month.

Luckily for Reagan, economic growth surged in 1984 and he was re-elected with an electoral vote margin of more than 500 and a popular vote cushion of more than 18 percentage points. The Trump administration doesn't want to have to roll the dice on waiting two-plus years for noticeable economic improvements from tax cuts alone. Carrier-like announcements peppered strategically over the next year or so are one way to avoid the challenges of an inevitable waiting period.

Second, Trump's decision to publicly call out outsourcing companies and then negotiate with them to stay stateside has the deliciously amusing and advantageous political effect of baiting his political opponents to take up the same politically unpopular positions Republicans have pursued for decades. There is certainly a very good argument to be made in terms of political theory against presidents singling out and shaming private companies.

But in the midst of a still weaker-than-it-should-be economy, who would want to be the politician arguing against deals like the Carrier agreement? It may make sense on the economic merits, but politically it's a pretty big loser. Predictably, some Democrats and liberal pundits are already foolishly pouring cold water on this "feel good" Carrier story in a classic case of forgetting that the emotional power of this deal far outweighs any academic economic or philosophical arguments.

Just one look at the faces of the Carrier employees whose jobs have been saved makes the deal's detractors look like the Grinch who stole Christmas.

And so even though the President-elect comes into office with a GOP majority in both houses of Congress, don't be surprised if Trump attempts to set a tone and lead via "Hollywood ending" stories like the Carrier deal just as much as he tries to do so via legislation. As a reality show drama master-turned political theater expert, Trump knows how to mine our emotions. The only question is whether his political enemies will find a smart way to answer.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.