Four years after he won the Midwest by vowing to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing workforce, President Donald Trump is campaigning for reelection on a job well done. The numbers tell a different story.
Trump’s anti-trade agenda and a pandemic-induced recession have combined to shutter factories and accelerate decades-old trends toward automation, eliminating hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, many for good, including in the Rust Belt states he needs to win in November.
The president’s path to the Oval Office was paved by his victory in this factory-intense region, where a downturn in manufacturing that began in 2015 opened the door for him to appeal to demoralized blue-collar voters.
But the White House’s trade wars kicked the sector into another slump in 2019, withMichigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania facing declines or plateaus in manufacturing employment even back in February — well before Covid-19 forced layoffs at dozens of plants. As of July — the most recent month for which data is available — each state is down between 20,000 and 40,000 workers from prepandemic levels.
That record presents a particularly daunting challenge for Trump to replicate his stunning victory of 2016 as he struggles to overtake Democrat Joe Biden, who appeals more to Midwestern voters than Hillary Clinton did four years ago.
Yet the president is framing his policies as an unmitigated success.
“You better vote for me, I got you so many damn car plants,” Trump said during a Sept. 10 rally in Michigan. “And we’re going to bring you a lot more.”
So many damn car plants. Like 0. That’s a number.
Of course we will see if reality makes any difference. After all, there is whiteness to overcome.