Donald Trump’s campaign sees an opportunity to siphon autoworkers, on the brink of a strike and unsettled by the rise of electric vehicles, off of the coalition that narrowly elected Joe Biden in 2020. The UAW has conspicuously declined to endorse Biden so far, in part due to concerns about how labor will fare in the transition to EVs that the White House has made one of its top priorities.
The situation “shows there’s a disconnect between blue collar workers and Democrats,” a person close to Trump told Semafor, adding that the Trump campaign believes that auto workers and other union members have been “disenfranchised by what’s going on with the economy” and the Biden administration.
The campaign released a message to auto workers earlier this week. A second policy video attacked Biden’s “ultra expensive” electric vehicle push, saying “U.S. manufacturing will be dead” as a result of his policies and China would subsequently “end up controlling the world.” Trump’s campaign has vowed that he will instead “lower inflation, protect American workers, and create millions of high wage jobs.” Notably, it doesn’t seem like Trump’s campaign will depart from traditional Republican hostility to unions or their leadership. Rather, his goal is to peel off individual members as the 2024 election nears.
Trump’s outreach isn’t new: Back in June, he gave a speech in Michigan partially focused on addressing concerns among autoworkers over the Biden administration’s electric vehicle push. But down the line, expect even more outreach to union workers: This includes Trump’s messaging, which will have “major” points aimed at workers, with topics like energy, the economy, and inflation tossed in more and more alongside the electric vehicle subject.
Trump outperformed traditional Republican candidates with union households back in 2016. And despite Biden’s support for labor-friendly rules and legislation — he pitches himself as “the most pro-union president in American history” — the UAW has withheld its endorsement of Biden.
But Biden still has the benefit of being endorsed by most other unions, and in recent weeks has gone on the offense against Trump in an effort to hold onto his support. UAW president Shawn Fain in particular has made it clear that despite the group’s conflict with Biden, he’s no fan of Trump.
“That’s not someone that represents working-class people,” Fain said on Thursday morning, referring to a recent Truth Social post in which Trump criticized union leadership while urging autoworkers not to pay union dues. “He’s part of the billionaire class, we need to not forget that. And that’s what our members need to think about when they go to vote.”
(In response, the Trump campaign demanded union leadership make a choice: “Stand with Biden and other far-left political cronies in Washington,” or come over to the Trump side with “front-line autoworkers.”)
The View From the Biden campaign
The Biden campaign’s plan? To continuing contrasting his own record with that of Trump’s (or any Republican):
“Donald Trump’s record of lining the pockets of the ultra-wealthy, creating incentives for corporations to ship American jobs overseas, and repeatedly attacking unions and the labor movement has clearly demonstrated he is not on the side of America’s workers,” rapid response director Ammar Moussa said in a statement.
The Biden administration is also taking steps to ease auto workers’ concerns, with the Energy Department announcing on Thursday billions of dollars in grants and loans to help areas defined by the auto industry transition facilities into making electric vehicles, without resulting in job losses.
In June, The New York Times described how “the modern labor movement” that Biden is trying to affiliate himself with is far different from the one with which he honed his political career: They’re now “younger and more diverse” with “far more women than the union stereotype.” The result? Biden’s now greeted by a “more skeptical” crowd that’s “less familiar with” his record.