Former President Trump is expected to travel to Detroit next week in lieu of attending the second Republican primary debate, putting himself at the center of a major autoworker strike.
Trump’s trip underscores how the former president has in some ways already turned his focus to a possible general election rematch with President Biden, with the former president seeking to appeal to the type of union workers that are critical to Biden’s voting coalition.
“It’s a twofer for him,” said Michigan-based GOP strategist Jason Cabel Roe. “He gets to troll his opposition and go stake a claim in an important battleground state that he has been unique amongst Republicans of the last 30 or 40 years in winning. So I think it’s … a pretty savvy move on his part.”
Trump skipped the first Republican presidential primary debate last month and instead sat for an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, citing his comfortable lead in polling. He plans to travel to Michigan while his main rivals for the GOP nomination gather for the second debate in California on Sept. 27.
A Trump adviser confirmed the former president will deliver remarks in prime time in front of current and former union workers in Detroit, a hub of the U.S. auto industry. A visit to the picket line is unlikely, however. The New York Times first reported on Trump’s plans.
Some Republicans believe that Trump’s decision to speak to union workers in Detroit may make the second GOP debate less relevant this go-around. It’s also likely to frustrate his Republican opponents, who are vying to go after him on the debate stage.
“At the very least, he diminishes the value of the debate for other potential challengers and candidates,” said Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan GOP. “It may not be overwhelming, but to some degree, regardless of what it is, he clearly diminishes the value of the debates for all the challengers and makes it tougher for them to get their message out, to get their candidacy out there as an alternative for Trump.”
At the same time, Trump’s appearance underscores the importance of Michigan — one of a handful of swing states that play a pivotal role in determining presidential elections.
Trump narrowly won Michigan in 2016 but lost the state in 2020. His campaign views the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike and the larger debate over the transition to electric vehicles as an opening to win over voters in the state.
Autoworkers represented by the UAW went on strike at a small number of factories last week after the union failed to reach a deal with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. The union is asking for increased pay and benefits.
But also at issue is the fate of union workers as auto companies increasingly transition toward manufacturing electric vehicles, a factor Trump has zeroed in on, claiming the shift will mean more jobs are outsourced to China.
“The autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump,” the former president said in an interview with “Meet the Press.”
“The reason is: You’ve got to have choice, like in school. I want school choice. I also want choice for cars. If somebody wants gasoline, if somebody wants all electric, they can do whatever they want,” he added. “But they’re destroying the consumer, and they’re destroying the autoworkers.”
A poll published last week from Susquehanna Polling & Research showed Biden leading Trump by 3 percentage points in a hypothetical 2024 matchup in Michigan. Recent national polls have shown Biden with a similarly narrow lead over Trump.
Trump’s attacks have put increased pressure on Biden, who has touted himself as the most pro-union president in history but has also pushed for expanded incentives around electric vehicles as part of his climate agenda.
Biden last week delivered remarks saying automakers should share record profits with autoworkers, and he has dispatched top administration officials to Detroit to help broker a deal.
The UAW has withheld its endorsement of Biden thus far, even as some other major unions have thrown their support behind the president.
Biden frequently speaks about the importance of unions, and Democrats have largely brushed off the prospect of Trump — a billionaire with a reputation for stiffing his workers — making significant inroads with organized labor heading into an election year.
Biden’s campaign immediately went on offensive following the news of Trump’s expected travel to the Great Lakes State. Biden campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz posted on X, the website formerly known as Twitter, a statement from the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters, whose general president slammed Trump and called him “just another fraud” who “does not care about working men and women.”
Shawn Fain, the head of the UAW, has also been sharply critical of Trump, saying in a statement Tuesday that “every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers.”
At the same time, some Democrats have also suggested Biden, too, should travel to the state.
“It would be great for President Biden to go as well, as he has been the most pro-union president in decades,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in a statement, according to The Washington Post.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) argued that the president shouldn’t be involved in negotiations between the two sides.
“[Biden] doesn’t belong at the table. We know he supports the workers. We know his administration supports the workers,” Dingell said. “We know that Donald Trump wants to build electric vehicles in China.”
The Michigan Democrat acknowledged that Trump has been able to understand voters’ anxieties and concerns — something she says her party wasn’t as cognizant of during the 2016 election. But she vowed 2024 would be different.
“Both candidates understand workers are concerned about the transition and these times, but we did a terrible job as Democrats, ’cause nobody thought that he could win. I’m talking about trade. We will not make that mistake again,” Dingell said. “We will make sure that we remind people — and we all have that responsibility — to remind people of his track record.”