WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump used a campaign rally in Michigan late Thursday to attack Democratic challenger Joe Biden as a “globalist sellout” who spent his entire career sending American jobs overseas.
“Joe Biden sent your jobs to China,” Trump told supporters at an airport hangar in Freeland. “I’m running for reelection to keep jobs in Michigan.”
Trump traveled to Michigan as polls suggest the presidential race is tightening in the key battleground state.
Trump won Michigan by less than 11,000 votes — or about two-tenths of a percentage point — in 2016, becoming the first Republican presidential nominee to carry the state since George H.W. Bush in 1988. Trump’s victory in Michigan helped him breach the Democrats’ “blue wall” and put him in the White House.
Most polls show Biden leading in this year’s race, although some suggest Trump is closing the gap, giving Republicans optimism that he can carry the Wolverine State again. Biden holds a 4.2 percentage point lead in Michigan, down from an 8-point lead at the end of July, according to the website RealClearPolitics’ polling average.
Trump’s campaign stop in Michigan came one day after Biden traveled to suburban Detroit to make a direct appeal to blue-collar workers who might have voted Republican four years ago but now regret it.
At Trump’s rally, more than 5,000 supporters gathered at MBS International Airport near Saginaw to hear his rebuttal. Many were not wearing face masks, which are required in Michigan in places where it is impossible to keep a social distance of six feet or greater to deter the spread of coronavirus.
Trump used the event to argue that Biden would be weak on trade and to push his own trade policies, including the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Trump negotiated the trade pact to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which he has called one of the worst trade deals ever.
Trump said the new trade agreement, coupled with his decision to roll back fuel-efficiency standards put in place by then-President Barack Obama, had benefited the state’s auto industry.
In leveling his economic attacks on Biden, Trump focused largely on trade deals including several approved while Biden was in Congress but before he was the vice president, in particular NAFTA. Economists still debate the impact on U.S. jobs of that agreement, which was negotiated by Bush and approved by a Democrat-controlled Congress.
Despite Trump’s claims, the Obama administration had a significant impact on the auto industry, which was teetering on the verge of insolvency when Obama came into office in 2009. The Obama administration oversaw an $80 billion bailout of the industry in exchange for reform.
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Trump’s rally was his first campaign event in Michigan since a rally in Battle Creek late last year on the day the House voted to impeach him. He visited a Ford Motor Co. plant in Ypsilanti in May, but that was not a campaign event.
Tina Oldford and Jennifer Hay, both of Howell, said Thursday’s event was their first Trump rally and the first time they’re voting for president. Oldford, 59, and Hay, 53, said they believe the president is sincere and is looking out for their best interests.
“Sure, we had a downfall. Everybody knows that we had a downfall,” said Oldford, referencing the economic collapse that coincided with the coronavirus pandemic. “This could have happened to anybody. But the economy was great.
“I just felt more secure than I’ve ever felt in my life with Trump.”
Trump arrived in Michigan as he is dealing with the fallout of a new book in which he told journalist Bob Woodward that he knew the coronavirus was more deadly and contagious than the flu even as he downplayed its dangers to the public.
“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump told Woodward in the book “Rage.”
In interviews with Woodward between December 2019 and July 2020, Trump discussed the threat of the coronavirus with a level of detail that he had not yet acknowledged to the public, noting Feb. 7 that it was “deadly stuff,” and “more deadly than your – even your strenuous flus.”
Trump has called the book a “political hit job” and insisted at a White House news conference Thursday that he had not misled the public.
“I didn’t lie,” he said. “What I said is, we have to be calm; we can’t be panicked.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat with whom Trump has feuded frequently, slammed Trump over the revelations from the book and called him “the biggest threat to the American people.”
“It’s just devastating to hear that when we’ve been working so hard to save lives,” said Whitmer, who is a national co-chair of Biden’s presidential campaign.
Trump punched back, telling the crowd at his rally that Whitmer is “a liberal hypocrite” and that the state would be doing better economically “if you had a governor who knew what the hell she was doing.”
“Tell your governor to open up your state!” he demanded.
Trump, who has referenced Winston Churchill before, appeared to compare his response to the coronavirus to the former British prime minister’s actions during the Blitz.
“As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, keep calm and carry on — that’s what I did,” Trump said.
Churchill, Trump added, “always spoke with calmness. He said we have to show calmness. No, we did it the right way.”
The remark drew derision from Trump’s critics, who pointed out that Churchill was widely known for not sugarcoating the extent of the threats posed by Nazi Germany.
Trump comparing himself to Churchill “is like Charles Manson comparing himself to Mother Teresa,” Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary for former President Bill Clinton, wrote on Twitter.
Contributing: David Jackson, John Fritze and Jeanine Santucci of USA TODAY; Todd Spangler and Dave Boucher of the Detroit Free Press; The Associated Press