In Michigan, Trump’s Move Sets Stage for 2024 Battle Over Working-Class Voters
Donald Trump, the GOP primary front-runner, made a notable departure from the union-welcomed visit of President Joe Biden in Michigan. While skipping the second GOP debate, Trump addressed current and former union members near Detroit. This strategic move signals a shift towards a 2024 general election fight for the working-class voters who supported him in 2016 but leaned towards Biden in 2020. It’s a clear indication of the campaign’s evolving focus on a potential Trump vs. Biden rematch.
At Drake Enterprises, a non-union auto parts supplier in Clint Township, Trump engaged with a gathering of current and former union workers, positioning himself as their advocate. He sought union leaders’ endorsement for the presidency and launched a sustained critique of Biden’s electric vehicle policies.
Your leadership should give me their endorsement, and I pledge not to make any further negative remarks about them,” Trump stated, even though he had previously voiced criticism about the leader of the United Auto Workers, a significant labor union currently engaged in a strike.
Prior to Trump’s visit, which occurred just one day following Biden’s warm reception from UAW President Shawn Fain and his unprecedented participation in the autoworkers’ strike picket line, the president’s campaign unveiled a new advertisement critiquing Trump’s treatment of autoworkers. Titled “Delivers,” this 30-second ad represents the Biden campaign’s first direct attack on the former president.
In the 2020 election, the United Auto Workers endorsed Biden, but they have yet to make an endorsement for the 2024 election. Despite Fain’s criticism of Trump’s planned visit, which was announced before Biden’s visit, the former president’s team believes that he can create a divide between union leadership and the rank-and-file workers, many of whom supported him in 2016.
The truth of the matter is that there exists a gap between the political leadership of certain labor unions and the working middle-class employees they claim to advocate for,” explained Jason Miller, a senior campaign adviser for Trump, in a conversation with CNN.
Shortly after the strike commenced, Trump’s supporters started discussing the possibility of a visit, concurrently with his team making inquiries among Michigan Republicans to assess their level of interest.
GOP debate counterprogramming
Trump’s supporters also found the timing of his speech particularly strategic. They believed it would serve as more effective counterprogramming to the debate, in contrast to his previous sit-down interview with Tucker Carlson that coincided with the first Republican primary debate in August. Two GOP strategists shared this insight with CNN, with one of them stating, “In Detroit, he’ll actually be speaking to voters that he needs to win over.”
During his address, the former president briefly acknowledged the competing second Republican presidential debate, humorously remarking, “You know we’re competing with the job candidates; they’re all running for a job. No, they’re all job candidates – they want to be in the – they’ll do anything – secretary of something. They even say VP. I don’t know. Does anybody see any VP in the group? I don’t think so.”
Suburban Macomb County, where Trump delivered his speech, holds historical significance as a blue-collar stronghold that gave rise to the “Reagan Democrat” voter. Trump secured victory there by approximately 11 percentage points in 2016 and 8 points in 2020. However, more recently, the county has become a battleground. In 2022, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer carried the county by 5 points.
“Macomb County boasts a significant number of union members and leans pro-Trump, although not by a wide margin,” noted Barry Goodman, a former Michigan Democratic National Committeeman.
In the 2020 election, Biden secured a 25-point lead among union households in Michigan, as indicated by CNN exit poll data. This marked a significant increase from Hillary Clinton’s 13-point advantage among the same demographic four years prior. However, Trump’s visit to Macomb County, in particular, indicates that the former president and his team perceive an opportunity to compete for some of these voters in the upcoming 2024 election.
“The individuals laboring on the factory floor – your typical blue-collar workers earning hourly wages at the Big Three – rallied behind Donald Trump due to their adherence to traditional values. They cherish their gun rights and resist any encroachment upon them. Moreover, they are predominantly pro-life,” stated Brian Pannebecker, a dedicated Trump supporter and president of Auto Workers for Trump. Pannebecker successfully gathered support from both union and nonunion workers, even including some UAW strikers.
Trump directly addressed many of these supporters during his visit. His audience included autoworkers, plumbers, electricians, as well as current and former union members, including UAW members and their families. In his speech, he criticized Biden for what he perceived as a mere photo opportunity at the picket line in Michigan and launched a critique of the president’s policies. According to Trump, these policies would lead to Michigan autoworkers losing their jobs.
“That’s precisely why I’m here tonight, to present a vision for rekindling economic nationalism and revitalizing our automobile manufacturing industry, which seems to be draining away from our nation. I envision a future that safeguards American labor, prioritizing American dreams over foreign profits,” Trump asserted.
Trump advisers see opening
The former president’s advisors revealed to CNN that they perceived an opportunity with autoworker voters, specifically due to Biden’s emphasis on electric vehicle production. Trump has recently begun characterizing this as an “electric car hoax” and simultaneously contending that it will result in the offshoring of autoworker jobs.
In the early stages of his presidency, Biden unveiled an ambitious goal: by 2030, half of all vehicles sold in the United States would be either battery electric, fuel-cell electric, or plug-in hybrid. This proposed shift represents a monumental change for an automotive industry traditionally dominated by gas-powered vehicles. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency introduced new draft regulations aimed at expediting this transformation, with the objective of ensuring that two-thirds of new cars sold in the US will be electric by 2032.
Miller characterized the shift towards electric vehicles as a “direct threat” to every UAW worker in Michigan currently employed in the production of gas-powered vehicles.
The president of Drake Enterprises, a non-union auto parts manufacturer where Trump delivered his speech, echoed these concerns. Nathan Stemple from Drake stated to Fox News, “If electric vehicles were to dominate today, our business would suffer greatly. In a scenario where all trucks and vehicles go electric, we’d struggle to find work.”
Certain members of the UAW have expressed apprehension about Biden’s push for increased electric vehicle production, fearing it could lead to a reduction in jobs since EVs require fewer assembly workers. Earlier this year, UAW President Shawn Fain publicly criticized Biden for the administration’s financial support of this transition. However, on Tuesday, Fain told reporters that he believes a transition towards electric vehicles won’t harm the union as long as “companies make the right choices.”
Trump’s rhetoric on this matter isn’t directly related to the ongoing strike, which primarily revolves around wage increases and the reversal of previous concessions.
Despite Trump’s history of conflicts with unions and his administration’s pro-business policies, the former president has recently tried to position himself as an advocate for autoworkers, although he has not addressed the strikers’ specific wage demands.
Union leaders have not been receptive to Trump’s recent stance. Shawn Fain recently responded to Trump’s planned visit, stating, “Our entire union is dedicated to fighting against the billionaire class and an economy that benefits individuals like Donald Trump at the expense of workers.” He emphasized that electing billionaires and millionaires who lack an understanding of the challenges faced by the working class isn’t a solution.
Biden enjoys the support of the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters, whose president, Mark McManus, criticized Trump for being out of touch with issues crucial to union workers. McManus stated, “After four years, it was clear that when it came to the issues our members care about – fair wages, safe workplaces, and the ability to retire with dignity – Donald Trump was merely a charade.”
Biden’s campaign is emphasizing this message in their new ad, which questions Trump’s support for autoworkers and includes footage of him golfing. The narrator underscores the significance of Michigan as a critical battleground in the 2024 race, emphasizing that “Manufacturing is returning to Michigan because Joe Biden doesn’t just talk; he delivers.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional information.