Trump primarily used the trip to present himself as the champion of an economic reawakening and of millions of Americans who lost jobs, portraying Democrats as adding to the desperation of shut-out workers.
“A permanent lockdown is not a strategy for a healthy state or a healthy country. To protect the health of our people we must have a functioning economy,” Trump said, implicitly discounting arguments of critics who say it’s not yet safe to reopen.
“Americans who want and need to return to work should not be vilified — they should be supported,” Trump said, lashing out at journalists and politicians who can work from home.
Trump also hit his central campaign themes, hyping his new trade deals, escalating his effort to use China as a scapegoat for not stopping a pandemic he himself long ignored and celebrating the border wall that is crucial to his bond with his supporters. And he took a new shot at Biden’s mental capacity, branding the former vice president “a Democrat that doesn’t even know where he is.” And even before he left the White House, Trump delivered yet another carrot to his evangelical supporters, then followed up in Michigan.
“What I want to do is get the churches open. The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors,” the President claimed.
Biden’s capacity to counter Trump’s chosen image as the voice of the jobless — by highlighting, for instance, his favors to corporations in the GOP tax cut bill and in stimulus funding — could turn into a critical passage of the election.
“For the last three years, Donald Trump has turned his back on Michigan’s working families. His delayed, erratic, and corrupt response to the pandemic has been no different,” Biden said in a statement on Thursday.
“In Donald Trump’s America, the wealthy and well-connected have gotten relief — while small business owners have too often seen their doors shutter,” he added.
Around a quarter of Michigan’s workers have lost their jobs,
according to new employment figures, showing that this debate could be pivotal in a state where Trump pulled off a narrow win over Hillary Clinton four years ago.
And the tactics that the President unveiled on Thursday will slot into his wider campaign to win the states that might hold the destiny of the White House, including Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Trump also shows his liabilities
Yet Trump’s fervent campaigning on Thursday also hinted at his vulnerabilities in a pivotal state that has moved against Republicans since his shock 2016 victory.
In many ways, Trump is playing catchup since satisfaction with his performance in the state trails public approval of the job being done by Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, with whom he has picked a political fight that he seems so far to be losing.
In a Fox News poll in April, 64% of Michigan voters approved of the job that Whitmer was doing in fighting the pandemic. And 58% of people in the state had a favorable impression of the Democratic governor, compared to 44% who had a favorable impression of the President.
In the 2018 midterm elections Michigan was a test case for how suburban and female voters turned against a President whose strength at framing economic themes is often obscured by his chaotic and vengeful personal leadership style.
Trump falsely claimed
Wednesday that Michigan’s efforts to help its citizens vote by mail in November, in a bid to check a resurgence of the virus, will trigger massive voter fraud. Those claims risk alienating voters who are worried about the health implications of showing up in person to vote in November. And they threaten to distract from the purity of Trump’s economic message in what is in many ways an unnecessary controversy.
The President’s trip also highlighted his bet that his political base — stoked by his cultural feuds with Washington elites — will deliver an even more famous victory than in 2016.
Trump made sure he was pictured addressing executives during a factory tour without a mask, cementing his chosen image as an unbowed warrior President standing with supporters who chafe against social distancing as an infringement on freedoms.
“Built Trump tough,” the President declared, appropriating Ford’s advertising slogan for his own purposes.
Calling the bluff of local Democratic officials, he insisted he wore a mask away from the cameras and gave himself political cover by blaming the media for a kerfuffle he whipped up himself by defying his own government’s advice on masks.
“I had one on before,” he said. “But I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure. … I think it sets an example both ways,” Trump said.
Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” — an unofficial campaign anthem — pounded out of the speakers as a barefaced Trump, introduced by masked Ford officials, took the stage with a clenched fist. Every president shades the line by using official events for political purposes. Trump just obliterates it.