Carl Icahn makes a great villain. He built his reputation in the 1980s as the one of the eras unapologetic corporate raiders, engineering hostile takeovers of major brands and squeezing every dime he could from those deals.
The media and liberal activists, led by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, now want to make the billionaire investor an emblem of avarice in Donald Trump’s presidency, citing Icahn’s push to change an obscure energy regulation for the benefit of one of his businesses.
The problem: Carl Icahn isn’t the real crony capitalist in this story. The real cronies are the Big Oil companies like BP and large gas-station retailers like Wal-Mart fighting to preserve an anti-competitive rule that threatens tens of thousands of refining and retail jobs concentrated in some of the same states that elevated Trump to the White House, not to mention the corn growers and big ethanol producers fighting to protect lucrative government subsidies.
This under-the-radar struggle centers around a provision in the Renewable Fuel Standard that requires small- and mid-sized oil refiners to either build the capacity to blend ethanol into gasoline or buy credits, known as Renewable Identification Numbers, from companies that do.
That blending process is incredibly expensive, so most of those smaller and mid-sized refiners opted to buy the credits, which, until recently, were modestly priced and could be traded easily. But recently, the market for these so-called RINs went a little haywire, as speculators in these shadowy markets drove prices sky-high.
This volatility is crushing smaller refiners and the mom-and-pop gas stations that rely on their fuel supplies, making it harder for both groups to compete with the big integrated oil companies that have existing capacity to blend ethanol and the major gas-station chains that have built their own blending facilities to gain a price advantage and crush their smaller rivals.
If Congress or the Trump administration doesn’t change the law, as many as 150,000 Americans could lose their jobs, according to an economic impact study by the Center for Workforce Information Analytics. That includes as many as 20,000 jobs just in southeastern Pennsylvania, a state that delivered Trump the presidency.
Trump’s image has already taken a pretty big hit in Pennsylvania; just 35 percent of Pennsylvania voters approve of the job he is doing as president, compared with the 55 percent who disapprove. Just imagine the attack ads, if Trump fails to protect 20,000 mostly blue-collar jobs in refining, trucking and maintenance that will disappear if these small- and mid-sized refiners go belly up because his advisers convinced him not to tweak a poorly constructed federal regulation.
Liberals like Elizabeth Warren want to make this fight all about Icahn because he has a stake in one of these smaller refiners. The gullible elites in the mainstream media have swallowed their narrative whole because they are so intent on creating controversies that portray Trump in a negative light. Not surprisingly, these out-of-touch liberals and their media allies have completely ignored the real people who will suffer if the president doesn’t change this law.
Carl Icahn has tried to take himself out of the narrative by formally resigning as an informal adviser to President Trump. Of course, Elizabeth Warren and the media latched on to this purely symbolic announcement to overstate the investor’s influence inside the Trump administration, but now that he is out of the picture, maybe people can focus on the actual victims of the actual cronyism – American workers who lose their jobs because giants like Walmart, BP, and Shell want to protect their profits.
Donald Trump won the respect of a blue collar base – and the White House – because he was the only candidate willing to stand up to the media and his liberal critics. It’s time for him to do it again.