Just ranting in general, really.
The president targeting one of the most popular companies in America due to an alleged dispute over Postal Service rates doesn’t look like a political winner at first blush, but whatever.
Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon. THEY LOSE A FORTUNE, and this will be changed. Also, our fully tax paying retailers are closing stores all over the country…not a level playing field!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2018
I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy. Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne by the American Taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. P.O. leaders don’t have a clue (or do they?)!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2018
It’s not just all talk, per Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair. According to one source close to the White House, “[Trump] gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos… Trump is like, how can I f*** with him?” Setting national policy based on wanting to “f*** with” a company’s owner seems like a smart, healthy way to govern, particularly when that company has a lot of leverage. The more Trump makes an issue of Amazon’s delivery business with the USPS, the more Bezos must be inclined to avoid the hassle altogether by finally building out his own delivery service. Come 2020, we’ll be seeing whiny presidential tweets about how the Postal Service went bankrupt because Amazon won’t be their cash cow anymore.
Until then, he want Amazon’s shipping costs renegotiated — and maybe more:
Advisers are also encouraging Trump to cancel Amazon’s pending multi-billion contract with the Pentagon to provide cloud computing services, sources say. Another line of attack would be to encourage attorneys general in red states to open investigations into Amazon’s business practices. Sources say Trump is open to the ideas. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)
Even Trump’s allies acknowledge that much of what’s fueling Trump’s rage toward Amazon is that Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, sources said. “Trump doesn’t like The New York Times, but he reveres it because it’s his hometown paper. The Washington Post, he has zero respect for,” the Republican close to the White House said. While the Post says that Bezos has no involvement in newsroom decisions, Trump has told advisers he believes Bezos uses the paper as a political weapon. One former White House official said Trump looks at the Post the same way he looks at the National Enquirer. “When Bezos says he has no involvement, Trump doesn’t believe him. His experience is with the David Peckers of the world. Whether it’s right or wrong, he knows it can be done.”
That last part is a superb point. Even if Trump’s media template wasn’t Pecker’s National Enquirer, he’d still want to run a vendetta against Bezos, I think. That’s the way he is. If you make trouble for him, he’s going to make trouble for you; using the federal government to settle personal scores is just a perk of the job, whatever the best interests of the country or consumers might be. But it’s absolutely true that a guy who survived and thrived in a tabloid culture for 30 years, with all sorts of retaliation and scummy favors between publishers and the subjects they covered, would naturally be skeptical that Bezos isn’t driving WaPo’s unflattering coverage of him. If that’s how the Enquirer works, why wouldn’t the Washington Post or the New York Times work the same way? Although that suspicion, ironically, flies in the face of the usual right-wing suspicions about the media: WaPo doesn’t need Jeff Bezos flogging them to do hit pieces on Trump because their staff of liberals is eager to do those pieces anyway.
But yes, as Sherman notes, Trump’s grudge is all about Bezos’s side gig, the Post, not his main gig at Amazon. Amazon is the whipping boy partly because, unlike the Post, there are no First Amendment concerns in trying to regulate it and partly because it’s worth orders of magnitude more than the Post is. If you want to hit Jeff Bezos in the wallet, you hit Amazon, not WaPo. (By one estimate, Trump’s Twitter ranting of late has cost Bezos $16 billion. No typo.) His gripes about Amazon’s USPS business and tax practices may be woefully misinformed, but that’s irrelevant. This isn’t about crafting good policy, it’s about a vendetta. It’s banana republic. It’s as if Obama had launched a sustained Twitter/regulatory campaign aimed at 21st Century Fox to “f*** with” Rupert Murdoch for Fox News’s coverage. As Erick Erickson notes, Trump’s successors will use the precedent to their own ends.
Here’s an interesting point for legal eagles from Radley Balko:
Recall that those postal rates Trump keeps harping about are set by a board of presidential appointees. So this is a pretty transparent attempt to threaten a company because Trump is unhappy with bad press coverage. https://t.co/QuzGeTvsUz
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) April 2, 2018
And when coming from the president, you could make a good argument that the threat itself violates the First Amendment. https://t.co/BbCoTiNCWh
— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) April 3, 2018
I don’t see the First Amendment argument at first glance but maybe there’s statutory law that would come into play. Imagine if Trump admitted forthrightly, “Yes, I’m targeting Amazon because I don’t like the Post’s reporting on me.” (There’s a nonzero chance that he will admit that at some point. He’s already referred to the paper as the AmazonWashingtonPost once before.) Could Amazon challenge new regulations/contract cancellations on grounds that they’re a clear product of retaliation? Does it matter that Trump is retaliating against Amazon because of its owner’s relationship to an arm of the press, which does enjoy First Amendment protections? That is to say, does Bezos qualify as “the press” since he is, after all, the publisher of a major newspaper and is being targeted due to that newspaper’s content?
I ask because the question reminds me that various courts knocked down Trump’s travel ban on account of impermissible motive, the same potential problem here. In those cases, judges looked at things Trump had said about banning Muslims before and after becoming president and concluded that the policy was driven by religious prejudice and therefore unconstitutional. The White House revised it several times, excluding some Muslim countries from the ban and including some non-Muslim ones, but at least one court concluded that the policy was still driven by Trump’s prejudice and therefore couldn’t stand. The obvious difference between those cases and the Amazon/WaPo scenario is that religious freedom is a constitutional right and getting a sweet deal from the Postal Service isn’t. Of course the government can regulate businesses, decline to enter into contracts with them, and so forth. Does it matter, then, if the government’s behavior is driven by a plainly personal vendetta against a media company, with a non-media company punished instead?
My guess is that courts would side with Trump, at least as a constitutional matter: If voters don’t like him using the federal government to settle personal scores they can vote him out in 2020. So long as there’s some rational relationship between federal policy and a federal interest — higher postal rates for Amazon means less pain for taxpayers — then it’s fine. But I don’t know. Exit question: If the USPS renegotiates its shipping rates with Amazon and the company ends up paying more, does Trump realize whom that cost will be passed on to? Amazon announcing the end of free shipping for Prime and blaming Trump for it might not be a momentum-builder for the GOP in the midterms.