Apple's CEO is about to take a victory lap after charming Trump over tariffs

Key Points
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook and President Donald Trump are expected to tour Apple's factory in Austin, Texas where the company's new Mac Pro will be assembled.
  • The tour comes after Apple won tariff exemptions from regulators on Mac Pro parts.
  • Cook has been playing a long political game with Trump, and he's winning in a bigger way than any other big tech executive.
How Apple CEO Tim Cook won over Trump amid a trade war
How Apple CEO Tim Cook won over Trump amid a trade war

Apple CEO Tim Cook is about to take a victory lap, and President Donald Trump will be following along.

Cook and Trump are expected to soon tour a factory in Texas where Apple will be assembling the new Mac Pro, Reuters reported Tuesday. The tour will cap an incredible couple of years where Cook has proven he's the only major tech executive who can squeeze what he wants out of Trump without compromising too much.

Apple shifted its Mac Pro assembly to a facility in Austin, Texas, in September after a round of tariff exemptions for computer parts the company won from trade regulators. The decision came after Cook went on a charm offensive against Trump in one-on-one meetings and private dinners as Apple grappled with the reality that its products could be subjected to tariffs this year. That would mean the company would either have to charge customers more for its products or eat the extra costs itself.

So Cook played the game. Since Trump took office in 2017, Apple has boasted — often without much clarity or detail — about a planned $350 billion "contribution" to the U.S. economy. It claimed its "job footprint" has grown to 2.4 million in the U.S. (Apple actually only has about 130,000 employees.) It's promised to open new offices in San Diego and invest $1 billion in an Austin office. And more.

Each announcement could be read as a giant nod toward the Trump administration and its aggressive goals to expand manufacturing and job growth in the U.S. And Trump and his administration has slurped it all up, cutting Apple a break on tariffs while giving Big Tech rivals like Amazon and Google a tough time on everything from antitrust probes to making threats regarding the minimal corporate taxes they pay.

The same goes with Trump's tour of the Mac Pro factory. It doesn't matter that the Mac Pro is a minor product for Apple. Trump gets his headline that Apple is building stuff in the U.S. He gets a glitzy tour of the Austin factory. He gets to brag about manufacturing jobs for American companies coming back home.

But Cook gets a lot more: He won tariff exemptions for most of the Mac Pro's parts, and Apple will continue to make its most profitable and popular products cheaply in China and ship them back to the U.S. with minimal impact from the tariffs.

A few targeted press releases and some chummy meetings go a long way with this president. Apple has mastered this political art, while Google, Amazon, Facebook and others continue to struggle to appeal to Trump's unique nature.

Cook has been playing chess with the president since the trade war with China began. Trump has been playing Candy Land.