Trump skips debate to woo blue-collar workers in Michigan

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By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – Donald Trump will speak to blue-collar workers outside Detroit on Wednesday, seeking to capitalize politically on an autoworker strike one day after President Joe Biden joined a picket line to show solidarity with workers and its union.

The former president chose to address hundreds of electricians, plumbers and pipe-fitters rather than square off with his rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination at a debate also scheduled for Wednesday night.

In a speech hosted by a non-union auto supplier, Trump is expected to blast Biden’s economic policies and warn that the Democratic president’s embrace of electric vehicles will lead to job losses across the auto industry.

The decision by both Trump and Biden to insert themselves into an escalating dispute between union members and America’s three largest carmakers highlights the importance both men place on securing support from working-class voters in Michigan and other battleground states in next year’s presidential race.

With their visits to Michigan, Biden and Trump “are telling you they can’t win without this broad, somewhat amorphous working class,” said Robert Bruno, professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois.

Trump, who appears on track to clinch the Republican Party nomination and challenge Biden for the presidency, lost Michigan in 2020 by some 154,000 votes. It is one of three Rust Belt states, along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that Trump picked up in 2016 but lost in 2020, and the three will likely prove critical to both parties next year.

Biden on Tuesday joined a picket line outside Detroit with striking United Auto Workers union members, backing their call for a 40% pay raise. UAW President Shawn Fain called Biden’s visit a “historic moment,” and thanked him for his support.

Trump’s event, in contrast, will be held at a non-unionized auto supplier called Drake Enterprises, and UAW leaders will not be involved. Trump has sought to drive a wedge between union leadership and rank-and-file workers, arguing that he would better protect their jobs and boost wages in a second term.

To date, the UAW has declined to support either presidential candidate, making it the only major union not to back Biden.

“You have to separate the union’s political leadership versus their members,” said Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser. “Trump has very strong support from working class voters in Michigan and the auto industry as a whole.”


In Wednesday’s speech, Trump will emphasize the negative impact of inflation on the livelihoods of blue-collar workers, Miller said. Trump will also criticize Biden’s past support of trade deals that helped push manufacturing overseas and argue that the push to electric vehicles will destroy jobs.

The UAW, however, plans to release a video on Wednesday highlighting the shutdown of General Motors Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant in 2018, including criticism that Trump failed to prevent it, according to a person familiar with the union’s plans.

Trump’s address to workers comes a day after he was hit with his latest legal setback, when a New York judge found he and his family business fraudulently inflated the value of his properties and other assets.

During Trump’s 2017-2021 White House term, his administration generally sided with businesses over the interests of workers, though some of his trade policies were aimed at protecting domestic manufacturing jobs.

Michael Schostak, a former vice chair of the Michigan Republican Party, said Trump’s opposition to Biden’s push on electric vehicles will resonate with a broad swath of working-class people concerned about the potential loss of jobs.

“He wants to appeal to both the union and the non-union manufacturing base,” he said.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Joe White in Detroit and Jason Lange in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Timothy Gardner)

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