Trump campaigns for Michigan votes

Front-runner skips 2nd GOP debate

A supporter is interviewed before former President Donald Trump speaks in Clinton Township, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. Trump will be in battleground Michigan working to win over blue-collar voters in the midst of an autoworkers strike. Trump's trip on Wednesday comes as his Republican challengers gather onstage in California for their second primary debate. (AP Photo/Mike Mulholland)

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- As his Republican rivals gathered onstage in California for their second primary debate, Donald 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 came a day after Biden became the first sitting president in U.S. history to walk a picket line as he joined United Auto Workers members 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.

Trump, in his speech, sought to cast Biden as hostile to the auto industry and workers, claiming 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, echoing 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 he said he supported the workers and hoped they would get a good deal, Trump said any deal won't matter if new electric vehicle mandates take effect.

"Your current negotiations don't mean as much as you think," he said, warning union leaders that they risked "committing suicide."

Trump, who has cast himself as pro-worker, has clashed repeatedly with union leadership and has sought to pit union members against union 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 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.

Still, Trump repeatedly urged the union to endorse him, at one point directly appealing to UAW President Shawn Fain.

While the union has withheld its support for Biden after endorsing him in 2020, 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.

Biden's re-election campaign, in a statement, called Trump's speech "a pathetic, recycled attempt to feign support for working Americans."

Drake Enterprises, where Trump spoke, 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.

The former president has sought 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 Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, fundamentally reshaping voting alliances as he railed against global trade deals and vowed to resurrect dying manufacturing towns.

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.

  photo  Former President Donald Trump speaks in Clinton Township, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Mike Mulholland)
  photo  Former President Donald Trump speaks in Clinton Township, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Mike Mulholland)
  photo  Former President Donald Trump speaks in Clinton Township, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Mike Mulholland)