Donald Trump speaks in Clinton Township, Mich., Wednesday night. (AP)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday it was not important whether striking union autoworkers secured a favorable deal in negotiations with big carmakers because the shift to electric vehicles would soon make them obsolete.
“It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what you get because in two years you’re all going to be out of business,” Trump told blue-collar workers gathered at a non-union auto supplier outside Detroit.
As his Republican rivals gathered onstage in California for their second primary debate, Trump was in battleground Michigan Wednesday night working to win over blue-collar voters by lambasting President Joe Biden and his push for electric cars in the midst of an autoworkers’ strike.
“A vote for President Trump means the future of the automobile will be made in America,” Trump said at Drake Enterprises, a non-unionized auto parts supplier in Clinton Township, about a half-hour outside Detroit.
The Republican front-runner’s trip comes a day after Biden became the first sitting president in U.S. history to walk a picket line as he joined United Auto Workers in Detroit. The union is pushing for higher wages, shorter work weeks and assurances from the country’s top automakers that new electric vehicle jobs will be unionized.
The dueling appearances preview what will likely be a chief dynamic of the 2024 general election, which increasingly looks like a rematch between Trump and Biden. Michigan is expected to again be a critical battleground state as both candidates try to paint themselves as champions of the working class.
Trump’s decision to skip another debate comes as he maintains a commanding lead in the GOP primary — even as he faces four separate criminal indictments — and as his campaign works to pivot to the general election months before primary voting begins next year.
Drake Enterprises makes automotive and heavy-duty truck components, including gear shift levers for semi-trucks, said its president Nathan Stemple, who noted a shift to electric cars would cripple him.
While Trump aides had said his audience would include several hundred current and former UAW members, as well as members of plumbers and pipefitters unions, the crowd also included many non-union workers who support the former president. Some said they had been invited by people who did business with Drake; others said they had simply arrived at the factory Wednesday afternoon and been allowed to attend.
Tony Duronio, 64, a longtime Trump supporter and real estate broker who lives in Clinton Township, said he received an invitation from a group called Autoworkers for Trump. Duronio praised the economy during Trump’s time in office and echoed the former president’s criticism of electric vehicles: “Nobody wants ‘em,” he said — and applauded Trump’s decision to skip the debate.
“He’s the frontrunner. He doesn’t have any competition,” he said. “Look, if it ain’t him, I may stay home ’cause the rest are no different than Biden.”
The former president has tried to use the strike to drive a wedge between Biden and union workers, a constituency that helped pave the way for his surprise 2016 victory. Trump in that election won over voters in Democratic strongholds like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, fundamentally reshaping voting alliances as he railed against global trade deals and vowed to resurrect dying manufacturing towns.
But Biden won those states back in 2020 as he emphasized his working-class roots and commitment to organized labor. He often calls himself the “ most pro-union president” in U.S. history and argues the investments his administration is making in green energy and electric vehicle manufacturing will ensure the future of the industry unfolds in the U.S.
Trump, in his speech, tried to cast Biden as hostile to the auto industry and workers, using extreme rhetoric to claim the industry was “being assassinated.” He insisted Biden’s embrace of electric vehicles — a key component of his clean-energy agenda — will ultimately lead to lost jobs, amplifying the concerns of some autoworkers who worry that electric cars require fewer people to manufacture and that there is no guarantee factories that produce them will be unionized.
“He’s selling you out to China, he’s selling you out to the environmental extremists and the radical left, people who have no idea how bad this is going to be for the environment,” Trump told his crowd, flanked by American flags and pallets of auto parts.
While Trump has cast himself as pro-worker, he has clashed repeatedly with union leadership and tried to turn union members against their leaders. In a recent campaign video, he urged autoworkers not to pay union dues and claimed their leaders have “got some deals going for themselves.” “I WILL KEEP YOUR JOBS AND MAKE YOU RICH!!!” he has told them.
Just hours before Trump’s visit, the UAW posted a video on its Facebook page protesting factory closures by Detroit’s automakers that included 2017 footage of Trump telling a northern Ohio crowd that auto jobs would be coming back. Two years later, General Motors closed a huge assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, costing thousands of jobs.
While the union has withheld its support for Biden after endorsing him in 2020, UAW President Shawn Fain appeared at Biden’s side during his visit Tuesday and criticized Trump.
“I don’t think he cares about working-class people. I think he cares about the billionaire class, he cares about the corporate interests. I think he’s just trying to pander to people and say what they want to hear, and it’s a shame,” Fain said.