Trump Promised a Manufacturing Renaissance. What Happens in 2020 in Places That Lost Those Jobs? – By Michael Tackett (New York Times) / June 24 2019
DIMONDALE, Mich. — In August 2016, Donald J. Trump was full of promises when he spoke to a packed crowd at the Summit Sports and Ice Complex here. Predicting that he would carry Michigan, a state that had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, Mr. Trump said his would be “a victory for the wage-earner, the factory worker, a victory for the everyday citizen.”
That pledge and his promise to bring back the industrial jobs were major reasons Mr. Trump carried Dimondale and the rest of Eaton County, an area heavily dependent on the automotive industry that voted for Barack Obama in 2012, and went on to carry Michigan in an upset crucial to his election.
But nothing has reversed the decline of the county’s manufacturing base. From January 2017 to December 2018, it lost nearly 9 percent of its manufacturing jobs, and 17 other counties in Michigan that Mr. Trump carried have experienced similar losses, according to a newly updated analysis of employment data by the Brookings Institution.
“To the extent that economic realities have the power to alter voting behavior, the trends are pointing in one direction in Michigan in a lot of these counties,” said Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who directed the analysis.
And that makes it most likely that Michigan, which the president won by only 10,704 votes, could be a place where his expansive promises will come back to haunt him in 2020.
More troubling for Mr. Trump, some of the same forces are at work in the two other states that were critical to his Electoral College victory — Wisconsin, where 10 counties that he won in 2016 lost manufacturing jobs, and Pennsylvania, where eight counties that he carried faced manufacturing job losses.
“Michigan is likely a forerunner,” Mr. Muro said. “I could imagine Pennsylvania and Wisconsin turning negative or losing growth momentum the rest of the year.” While Michigan’s economy is more dependent on the big automakers, all three states have economies with roots in factory work, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas that have been steadily losing ground because of automation and globalization.
North of Dimondale, Clinton County offers another example. Mr. Trump won the county, but it has experienced a loss of more than a quarter of its manufacturing jobs.
In Pennsylvania, the losses were not as steep but two counties that Mr. Trump won easily, Wyoming and Warren, had the highest percentage declines in the state. The same was true for Trempealeau and Rusk Counties in Wisconsin, where a Democrat, Tony Evers, ousted the incumbent Republican governor, Scott Walker, a strong supporter of the president, in 2018.
These are the kind of places about which President Trump should feel most confident in 2020. But their shifting economic fortune could now test how far his appeal to white working-class voters stretches and whether their cultural alliance with him is enough to persuade them to stick with him.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, pushed back at the idea of manufacturing job losses in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
“President Trump has a vision of ensuring policies are in place that support a growing economy and the American worker, including our great manufacturers,” he said in a statement. “The president has not only lowered taxes for hard-working families, his leadership and passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act along with deregulation has led to an unprecedented period of job and wage growth across the country, and Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are no exceptions.”
But the president faces troubling poll results in all three states.
A poll published this month in The Detroit Free Press and conducted by the Lansing-based polling firm EPIC-MRA, showed that only 32 percent of voters surveyed would vote for Mr. Trump’s re-election, a finding consistent with the company’s poll in March. It also found that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is running for the Democratic nomination, led Mr. Trump by 11 points.
“That’s a guy in trouble,” said Bernie Porn, the president of the polling firm. “Those numbers are really indicative of someone who is going to have problems.”
He said that polling also showed that most people in Michigan credit Mr. Obama, whose administration bailed out General Motors at the depths of the Great Recession, for helping the auto industry and the thousands of jobs that go with it.
In Wisconsin, 28 percent of registered voters said they would definitely vote for Mr. Trump’s re-election and 14 percent said they probably would, according to a Marquette University Law School survey in April.
In Pennsylvania, a recent Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 36 percent of registered voters favored Mr. Trump’s re-election while 61 percent said it was time for a change, numbers that may be more troubling given that people in the state said they felt economic conditions had improved since 2016, even with job losses in parts of the manufacturing sector.
Another sign that the president might be losing support in Pennsylvania was the victory of Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat, who in November won his third term in the state. Mr. Casey beat his main opponent in the heavily industrialized Erie County, for instance, by 18 points, compared to Mr. Trump who carried the county by a margin of less than two points in 2016.
A central challenge for Democrats in the three states is whether they can effectively make the case that Mr. Trump’s promises were mere sloganeering, and win back those votes.
In Michigan, that will be determined to a great degree by the health of the auto industry. In the Great Recession, the auto industry suffered greatly, forcing General Motors into bankruptcy for a period as thousands of automotive workers in Michigan lost their jobs. That added to their sense of grievance as voters and helped give rise to Mr. Trump’s victory.
In his campaign speech in Dimondale, Mr. Trump said “the Michigan manufacturing sector is a disaster,” and he blamed the Obama administration’s policies for the struggles of the auto industry, even saying that if he were not elected, Mexico would become “the car capital of the world.”
Now, a contraction in the automotive sector in Michigan and other states is affecting not only the large manufacturing plants, but also the parts suppliers that have provided an economic lifeline to smaller and midsize towns.
Michigan, which is heavily dependent on supply chain links with Mexico, dodged additional trouble when Mr. Trump pulled back from his threat to impose tariffs on imports from Mexico, though the president has reserved the option of changing his position.
“I think we are definitely seeing a slowdown,” said Carla Bailo, president and chief executive of the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit organization that studies the industry. “Sales have slowed. Production rates have slowed.”
The slowing sales stem in part from a change in consumer demand toward S.U.V.s and away from sedans, but she said that Mr. Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum have hit both manufacturers and parts suppliers, increasing “the price of vehicles.”
Ben Frantz, the vice president of U.A.W. Local 652 in Lansing, which represents a G.M. plant that produces Cadillacs and Camaros, said that the union will try to make the facts about the president clear to members. “On camera, he talks about all these things that hit to the heart of his base,” he said of Mr. Trump. “He continues to talk about it, but doesn’t do anything about it.”
Still, he said, the president has some strong pockets of support among union members, notably those who are pro-gun rights and opposed to abortion. “It’s these single-issue voters who gnaw on that chunk of wood,” Mr. Frantz said.
While Mr. Trump’s critics might like to see a stream of voters who say they are betrayed, the story in places like Dimondale is more layered. The larger forces of the economy, including tariff policies and a drop in auto sales, move slowly through communities like this one, a town of about 1,250 people with a lone primary commercial street and quiet neighborhoods that seem far removed from factories.
Lori Conarton, who has lived in Dimondale since childhood, opened a restaurant on Bridge Street about a year and a half ago. She said the local economy is doing “pretty well after a lot of ups and downs.”
People who live in the heart of the auto belt know those cycles well. Ms. Conarton, who said she could not bring herself to vote for Mr. Trump in 2016, added that some of president’s policies seem to have worked, but that he loses support because of his “pretty unprofessional” tone. And if the economy, especially with regards to the auto industry, contracts, then the peril for Mr. Trump will be that voters may focus even more on what they see as negative sides of his character.
A General Motors assembly plant that produces midsize S.U.V.s in Lansing Charter Township, Mich. Manufacturing jobs at other plants in the area have continued to decline.