WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will travel to Ohio on Wednesday amid a Twitter feud with General Motors over an iconic auto plant that threatens to undercut his manufacturing message in the politically consequential Buckeye State.
Making the first of two trips this month to Midwestern battlegrounds, Trump is expected to tout the nation’s economy and low unemployment during a tour of a tank plant in Lima, Ohio, before addressing supporters at a fundraiser in Canton in the evening.
The president is also set to hold a rally in Michigan next week.
Even as Trump talks up success in some quarters of the economy, he is likely to face questions about the Lordstown plant, where the last Chevrolet Cruze rolled off the assembly line this month. GM announced last fall it was closing the plant, affecting about 1,500 jobs.
“Sadly, it’s the perfect image for Trump’s lies and his policies,” said John Weaver, a Texas-based GOP consultant who worked for former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and frequent Trump critic. “The fact that he raised the hopes of not just that community but people across the Midwest and is unable or unwilling to make it happen will come back” to haunt him.
Trump feuds with GM
Trump, who frequently criticized GM during the campaign for closing plants, returned to the theme with a series of posts on Twitter over the weekend as the last gasps of the Lordstown plant, which opened in the 1960s, grabbed national headlines.
“Get that big, beautiful plant in Ohio open now,” Trump wrote on Sunday. “Close a plant in China or Mexico, where you invested so heavily pre-Trump, but not in the U.S.A. Bring jobs home!”
Trump frequently plays up what he has described as a renaissance in U.S. manufacturing, an industry whose workers were a key consistency of his 2016 election. But his administration has had to wrestle with several high-profile setbacks.
Trump said in November that he spoke with GM CEO Mary Barra about plant closings, saying he was “very tough” and that “we have a lot of pressure on them.”
In January, an executive at Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group said the company might not follow through on plans – frequently touted by Trump – to build a flat-screen display factory in Wisconsin. Though Foxconn has since said it will make screens there next year, it has not provided specifics about its investment.
U.S. manufacturing jobs have been steadily increasing since 2010 but are still well below the peak reached in the 1970s. There were 12.8 million U.S. manufacturing jobs in February, according to Department of Labor data, up from 11.4 million in 2010. There were more than 19.5 million manufacturing jobs in 1979.
GM feud: President Trump attacks GM, UAW over plans to close Lordstown plant
Daniel Ujczo, a Columbus-based attorney who specializes in international trade, said Trump’s policies have been a mixed bag in Ohio.
“I think the president has a great deal of support for taking an aggressive stance on China,” Ujczo said. “However, other policies such as the steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico are having a negative effect on the auto industry here and all of the manufacturing industry in Ohio.”
The tariffs have caused the price of steel to skyrocket in the state, said Ujczo, who also serves as president of the Ohio-Canada Business Association.
As attention increasingly shifts to the 2020 presidential election and a bevy of Democrats ramp up campaigns, polls show Trump’s support in Ohio has slipped.
Since taking office in 2017, Trump’s net approval rating in Ohio has dropped 19 percentage points, according to nonprofit polling firm Morning Consult. The “net approval rating” is the gap between an approval rating and a disapproval rating.
The president won Ohio by 8 percentage points in 2016, and Republicans in the state – including Gov. Mike DeWine and Rep. Troy Balderson – won several competitive races in the 2018 midterm election despite large wins for Democrats nationwide.
Ohio: Trump will visit Ohio. Do Ohioans still like him? Not as much as they used to
“Ohio is a microcosm of the president’s political strengths as well as some of the challenges he continues to face,” said longtime GOP strategist Kevin Madden, who worked as an aide to former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio when Boehner was the House majority leader.
That includes a strong base of support with many working class voters in the state who feel as though their voices are “finally being heard when it comes to getting tough on China’s trade practices,” Madden said. But Trump’s tariffs are also having a negative impact on other sectors, including the automotive industry and agriculture.
“He has some leeway with his base voters for now,” Madden said. “But if these tariff policies continue to hurt growth and impact jobs, a slight shift in support could put Ohio in play.”
Contributing: Scott Wartman, Cincinnati Enquirer, and David Jackson, USA TODAY.