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Trump outlines vision of ‘economic nationalism’ in Detroit, while missing debate

Former President Donald Trump spoke before a crowd of nonunion autoworkers as his primary challengers duked it out at a debate in California

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Former President Donald Trump speaks in Clinton Township, Mich.

Former President Donald Trump speaks in Clinton Township, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

Mike Mulholland, Associated Press

Former President Donald Trump outlined his vision for “a revival of economic nationalism” before a crowd of nonunion auto workers in Michigan Wednesday night.

The event served as counter programming while his primary challengers duked it out across the country in California, a strategy Trump also used during the first Republican presidential primary debate last month.

Trump has said he will skip all of the scheduled debates in the 2024 GOP presidential primary. The former president holds a consistent lead in national and state polls, boasting a 42% gap between himself and his next nearest competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average.

The former president’s remarks on Wednesday touched on familiar populist notes as he criticized the current administration’s policies, saying they endanger the U.S. auto industry

“Here in Michigan and across the country tonight there are thousands of auto workers and skilled tradesmen worried about the future and what the future holds for themselves and their incredible families,” Trump said at the event in Detroit. “Now they want to go ‘all electric’ and put you all out of business.”

The former president’s visit comes as tens of thousands of auto workers approach two weeks of strikes, shutting down General Motors, Ford and Stellantis plants.

In an unprecedented move, President Joe Biden visited the United Auto Workers picket line in Michigan on Tuesday. Biden affirmed his support for the striking workers’ demands for a 40% pay increase over the next four years.

Trump announced he would speak to auto workers three days before Biden made a similar announcement last week — a point Trump made clear during his speech Wednesday as he presented himself as the true representative of the working class.

“I’ve risked it all to defend the the working class from the corrupt political class that has spent decades sucking the life, wealth and blood out of this country. That’s why I’m here tonight to lay out a vision of a revival of economic nationalism,” Trump said.

This vision centers around protecting “American labor” by prioritizing “American dreams over foreign profits,” and employing protectionary measures to raise American wages and shore up American manufacturing, Trump said.

Trump said the current auto workers’ strike will not make a lasting difference because “in two years you’ll all be out of business.”

Trump blamed current economic woes on the Biden administration’s “ultra left wing globalism”, and said Biden’s EV mandates would “spell the death of the U.S. auto industry.”

“You can be loyal to American labor or you can be loyal to the environmental lunatics, but you can’t really be loyal to both,” Trump said.

Trump also criticized Biden for visiting and taking pictures on the picket line, saying his policies will send Michigan workers to the “unemployment line.”

In a stream-of-consciousness speech, which has become a common feature of his rallies, the former president walked through what he sees as the economic achievements of his administration — including tariffs to protect the auto industry — poked fun at Biden’s age and painted a picture of a re-industrialized America over the course of three hours.

“I side with the auto workers of America and those who want to make America great again and I always will,” Trump said.