Apple's political game with Trump worked like a charm

Key Points
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook and President Donald Trump tour the facility in Austin where the new Mac Pro is being assembled.
  • The visit caps a years-long charm offensive from Cook and Apple as it seeks relief from the looming tariffs on the iPhone.
  • The photo op appears to have paid off for Apple, with Trump hinting that he might offer tariff relief on the iPhone.
Trump visits Tim Cook at Apple Mac Pro plant in Texas
Trump visits Tim Cook at Apple Mac Pro plant in Texas

Tim Cook's victory lap played out exactly as expected.

On Wednesday, the Apple CEO and President Donald Trump appeared at the Austin facility where the new Mac Pro is being assembled. The photo op was designed to demonstrate Apple's commitment to building stuff in the U.S. and woo the president with an easy win as the company seeks relief from the looming tariffs next month on the iPhone.

It worked like a charm.

Trump got photos and videos and headlines of him touring the Austin facility with factory workers plugging away in the background. Apple gave him a jumbo-sized plaque that said the Mac Pro was designed in California and assembled in the U.S. Cook, when asked by the president, said in front of the press pool that the U.S. has the greatest economy in the world.

But Cook and Apple got an even bigger win, worth billions: Trump hinted during the visit that tariff relief on the iPhone could be coming. Don't be surprised if Apple ultimately gets its wish as its rivals suffer through the next round of tariffs.

How Apple CEO Tim Cook won over Trump amid a trade war
How Apple CEO Tim Cook won over Trump amid a trade war

As expected, Trump tweeted about the event shortly after it ended. And it was littered with falsehoods.

Trump tweet.

Let's break that one down.

Not true: Trump did not open a new Apple plant. That facility has been open since 2013, when Apple started assembling the last model of the Mac Pro there.

Not true: The plant is not an Apple plant. It's owned and operated by a company called Flex, which Apple contracts to assemble the new Mac Pro largely from components that come from overseas. It's very similar to the way Apple contracts Foxconn to assemble iPhones and other gadgets in China.

Not true: There are no new high-paying jobs coming back to the plant. The jobs never went away. This plant is now assembling the new model of the Mac Pro, just like it did for the old model.

But hey, those are all just details.

And will Cook or Apple correct the president? Almost certainly not. That's been the company's play each time Trump makes false promises on behalf of Apple. Remember Apple's "beautiful plants" that don't actually exist but which Trump talked about last year? Same story. (The company has not responded when asked for comment on the latest Trump tweet.)

One true thing Trump could have tweeted: Apple is investing $1 billion in a new campus in Austin that's expected to bring thousands of jobs to the area. However, those are expected to be white-collar jobs, not manufacturing jobs.

Apple has been playing a calculated game with the Trump administration for years, with Cook personally wooing the president on several occasions. That charm offensive culminated with Cook touring Flex's Austin factory. It was a rare political moment for Apple as it willingly played a part in a PR stunt for an administration that runs counter to many of its values, from the environment to immigration policy.

But that's a cost Apple seems willing to pay in order to get what it really wants: a tariff exemption on its most important and profitable product, the iPhone. If that happens, Apple won't have to worry about eating the cost of the tariffs or passing it along to its customers by raising prices.

It's a win-win scenario for Cook and Trump. Except in this case, Cook gets a much bigger win.

How Apple CEO Tim Cook has become 'Teflon Tim'
How Apple CEO Tim Cook has become 'Teflon Tim'