CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — On Wednesday, in an effort to detract from the second Republican presidential primary debate, former President Donald Trump visited here and called for a “revival” of the economic nationalism that fuelled his successful 2016 campaign.
In the middle of a United Car Workers strike, Trump addressed blue-collar workers at a nonunion car components plant. Vice President Joe Biden walked the picket line for the first time in presidential history on Tuesday outside of Detroit.
Trump, speaking to an audience of over 300 that included just a small number of the striking employees, blamed international trade treaties, which he has long railed against but which Biden and many Republicans have supported in the past, for the issues facing the auto sector. Trump has also repeatedly claimed that the promotion of electric automobiles by Biden and the Democrats is an attempt to appease environmental activists at the cost of a sector that is still primarily focused on gas-powered vehicles.
Before delivering his speech, Trump toured one of the company’s plants. “Joe Biden claims to be the most pro-union president in history,” he remarked. As one critic put it, “His entire career has been an act of economic treason and union destruction.”
He then addressed the UAW leadership specifically.
He expressed his hope that the United Auto Workers’ leadership will back Trump for president.
There was a huge outpouring of applause from the crowd.
There is a lot riding on Trump’s visit to this Detroit suburb, since 2020 may see a replay of his battle against Joe Biden for the presidency.
Trump is sending a message that he is more concerned with the general election struggle against Biden than with defending his candidacy from the other Republican contenders by declining to participate in a third debate with them. Michigan was one of the many industrial and Midwestern states that voted for Trump in 2016 and for Joe Biden in 2020. And on the night his opponents squared off at the library bearing Ronald Reagan’s name, Trump was in Macomb County, noted for its 1980s concentration of disaffected blue-collar workers known as “Reagan Democrats.”
Both in 2016 and 2020, Trump won Macomb County; however, Biden came within 40,000 votes of winning. About 48,000 votes separated Hillary Clinton and Trump in the 2016 election. Everything from automakers and component manufacturers to dealers may be found in this category.
On Wednesday, the crowd included both Drake Enterprises employees and UAW members, as well as local politicians. Signs reading “Union Members for Trump” were widely displayed, with many of them sporting the blue and gold of the University of Michigan. There were also Trump supporters in attendance who were more interested in seeing Trump speak than they were in showing support for the striking autoworkers. Republican J.R. Majewski, who ran for Congress from Ohio’s Toledo area and lost last year, traveled the 80 miles to attend.
“I mean, I’ve seen him speak in person two or three times,” said Paul Sheridan, who traveled from neighboring Bloomfield Hills to see Trump again. And he’s consistently excellent. Indeed, he is telling the truth. He has a great sense of humor. It’s fantastic to meet him again in person, as usual.
However, there were scarcely any striking employees there.
“There are a few strikers here, yes,” said Brian Pannebecker, a former local autoworker who now runs a Facebook page called Auto Workers for Trump. It’s a mystery to me where they may be. However, there are a few more than that.
Scott Malefant, one of the striking UAW workers there, agreed.
Malefant, sporting a Make America Great Again cap, remarked while waiting for Trump, “I haven’t seen anybody yet.” It’s possible that there are a few.
The event had all the hallmarks of a Trump rally, despite its modest scale in comparison to the stadium blowouts for which he became famous during his previous two campaigns. There was even a food truck, and the standard campaign soundtrack was playing over the loudspeakers. Trump’s repeated digressions from the topic of the labor conflict delighted his supporters, who cheered enthusiastically whenever he spoke and booed whenever the name of Vice President Joe Biden was mentioned.
Trump, in bringing up the strike and the car sector, echoed the “America First” rhetoric he has used in his prior campaigns. Also, he claimed he doesn’t have anything against EVs per se, but that Biden’s effort to produce more of them would be bad for American manufacturing.
“The things that you make in Michigan, they don’t need any of it,” Trump stated to the electric vehicle makers in Michigan.
At times, Trump sounded like the same president who, in 2017, advised supporters in Youngstown, Ohio, not to sell their houses because manufacturing was coming back on his watch, and he used this to cast himself as a more trustworthy defender for autoworkers and the industry in general. Two years later, a GM factory in nearby Lordstown was shut down. The Baltimore and Warren, Michigan, plants have also shuttered. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of jobs in the automotive industry remained stable throughout Trump’s presidency, increasing by around 35,000 between January 2017 and February 2020.
Democratic strategist Rich Luchette remarked, “It’s obvious why Donald Trump is not at the Reagan Library tonight—he’s leading the Republican primary field by 40 points.” However, from the perspective of the general election, Trump’s address to the nonunion business was a bad move. Voters will be reminded of Trump’s horrible track record on labor issues. Trump appointed a slew of anti-union activists to the National Labor Relations Board. Trump was not successful in reviving the American car industry.
Crowds of people, both pro- and anti-Trump, marched through the area around Drake before Trump’s arrival, yelling and carrying placards. The leftist superPAC American Bridge 21st Century commissioned an aircraft to fly over the neighborhood while carrying a banner stating “TRUMP SOLD US OUT.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Biden’s re-election campaign released a new cable TV and internet ad targeted at Michigan voters in the cities of Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Lansing.
“He says he stands with autoworkers,” the narrator adds of Trump. But as president, Trump cut taxes for his wealthy pals, causing automakers to lay off workers and hurting Michigan’s industrial sector.
The advertisement claims that Biden “doesn’t just talk; he delivers.”
A number of Trump supporters in attendance on Wednesday agreed that Biden’s picket line appearance the day before was a good strategy.
“I’m not a big fan of him,” Malefant said. But, you know, we’ll take whatever help we can get.
Upon being asked if Trump should have joined a picket line, Malefant replied that he “wouldn’t want to see the guy get booed or anything.”
When it comes to unions, “I think there is always going to be a warmer welcome for Democrats,” Malefant said. It’s not a popular issue with unions, so we kind of keep our tongues shut, but a lot of people would boo Biden.
The Facebook group’s creator, Pannebecker, said that Biden should remain neutral.
“I don’t think the president of the United States should be sticking his nose into contract negotiations between businesses, companies, and workers,” he stated. “President Trump is here today to discuss the accomplishments of his first term and the goals of his second.”