Former United States President Donald Trump has travelled to Michigan to court striking auto-workers, just one day after President Joe Biden walked the picket line in Detroit to show support for their labour union.
The back-to-back visits underscore the significance of so-called Rust Belt battleground states in the 2024 presidential election, which is shaping up to be a second showdown between Biden and Trump.
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Ahead of his visit on Wednesday, Trump expressed a desire to “save” autoworkers in the Rust Belt, a historic hub for American manufacturing that stretches from the midwest to the northeast.
“Heading to Michigan now. I LOVE, & WILL SAVE THE AUTOWORKERS. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social.
His prime-time address at a Detroit auto-parts supplier is roughly set to coincide with the second Republican presidential debate, scheduled for 9pm Eastern Time (01:00 GMT Thursday) in California.
It will be the second time Trump has chosen to skip a televised primary debate in the 2024 race, a decision he attributes to his already commanding lead among Republican voters.
Voters in Michigan and other Rust Belt states are seen as the key to victory for both Biden and Trump, if he indeed becomes the Republican party nominee in the November 2024 election.
In 2016, Trump’s surprise sweep of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all considered part of the Rust Belt — delivered him the presidency over his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
His victories in those states were seen as tapping into the disillusionment of residents who had seen industries scale back their presence — or disappear — in recent decades. The manufacturing decline has been accompanied by the waning influence of reliably Democratic-voting unions.
Biden, meanwhile, reclaimed Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin for the Democrats in the 2020 presidential race, campaigning on his staunch support for organised labour and his roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
As he seeks reelection in 2024, Biden returned to Michigan on Tuesday, where he became the first sitting US president in recent history to join striking workers on a picket line.
Flanked by United Auto Workers (UAW) leaders at an auto plant west of Detroit, Biden used a megaphone to call for a “significant raise” for employees.
The UAW launched its partial, coordinated strike earlier this month in a push for wage increases, shorter hours and improved retirement benefits. Workers across 20 states have since walked off the job as part of the strike.
Trump, meanwhile, has sought to portray Biden’s policies — and the persistently high inflation in the US — as damaging to workers.
He particularly seized upon Biden’s support for electric vehicles, saying an industry shift towards the lower emission vehicles would undercut segments of the traditional automotive industry.
“Joe Biden’s draconian and indefensible electric vehicle mandate will annihilate the US auto industry and cost countless thousands of autoworkers their jobs,” Trump said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Biden administration has maintained that the shift to electric vehicles will create high-paying union jobs, and his administration has unveiled billions in grants and loans to support the transition. Still, the issue remains divisive for autoworkers.
On Wednesday, Trump is set to speak at 8:15pm Eastern (00:15 GMT Thursday) at Drake Enterprises, a non-unionised auto parts supplier in Clinton Township in Michigan that makes automotive and heavy-duty truck components for semi-trucks.
The company’s president, Nathan Stemple, has said the company would be hurt by a shift to electric vehicles.
Several hundred current and former UAW members, as well as members of plumbers and pipefitters unions, are expected to attend the speech.
While the UAW has not yet endorsed Biden for 2024, the union previously supported his 2020 campaign. UAW President Shawn Fain spoke alongside the president on Tuesday.
He remains deeply critical of Trump, Biden’s rival in the 2020 race.
“I don’t think he cares about working-class people,” Fain said when asked about Trump’s upcoming visit. “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.”
The UAW represents an important union voting bloc. It has about 400,000 active members and more than 580,000 retired members in the US and Canada.