As Trump returns, Macomb weighs impact of policies

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Two days before Election Day, Donald Trump took the stage in Macomb County to promise an “America first” plan for tax cuts, school reform, changes to the Affordable Care Act, and the elimination of “job-killing” regulation and trade agreements.

Randal Thom, 58, left, drove 850 miles from southwest Minnesota and picked up friend Cindy Hoffman, 57, in Iowa to show support for President Donald Trump at his rally at Total Sports Park in Washington Township, Michigan on Saturday, April 28, 2018.

The Republican businessman ended up defeating Hillary Clinton in Macomb County 54 percent to 42 percent, winning Michigan by 10,704 votes and securing the presidency.

Political consultants expect Macomb County’s blue-collar workers and “Reagan Democrats” Trump wooed in 2016 will return in full force for a Saturday rally in Washington Township, even as the region’s farmers worry about the potential impact of his tariff war with China in which the communist government has threatened to slap higher import taxes on agricultural goods.

“I think as a whole, tariffs placed on any agricultural commodity is a big hit to not only the farm community, but also to all the small towns and larger industries that work, consume or rely on our products,” said Amanda Kutchey, a Macomb Township farmer and president of the Macomb County Farm Bureau.

‘Front Row Joes’ first in line for Trump rally

Trump’s rally at Total Sports Park in Washington Township will double as a stop in the president’s 2020 re-election campaign and a snub of the White House Correspondents Association dinner happening the same night in Washington, D.C. The president also didn’t attend the dinner during his first year in office.

Trump is expected to revisit familiar topics during the Saturday rally where he plans to speak about the “growing success” of his economic policies, deregulation, tax cuts, low unemployment and reductions in food stamp use.

Randal Thom of Lakefield, Minnesota, and Cindy Hoffman of Independence, Iowa, were the first and only Trump supporters at the sports park on Friday morning. Thom said he is the veteran of 30 Trump rallies.

“We need to get out here and support him,” Thom said. “He’s getting attacked left and right.”

Chuck Hadden, president and CEO for the Michigan Manufacturing Association, argues the president has delivered on at least some of the promises.

Hadden said Trump’s tax cuts and changes to regulations have helped manufacturers across Michigan. The tax overhaul was the largest in 30 years and cut rates for most individuals and families and slashed the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent.

As for tariffs, Hadden said he sees the need to protect intellectual property, but doubts the tariffs will materialize.

“I think they won’t come about,” Hadden said. “I think it’s the art of negotiations right now.”

Similarly, farmers in Macomb County are hoping the tariff impact won’t be as severe as predicted, especially when it comes to soybean crops. China accounted for almost 60 percent of soybean farmers’ exports, according to the Associated Press, and brought in $12.4 billion in revenue for the year that ended on Aug. 31.

Soybeans are Michigan’s top food export, with $448 million of product sent out of the country in 2015. Michigan was the nation’s 13th largest producer of soybeans among the states in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For Jay Ferguson, it’s too soon to tell what the impact will be.

Ferguson, vice president of the Michigan Soybean Association, farms in Macomb, St. Clair, Sanilac and Lapeer counties. He said he is concerned about Trump’s tariffs, but believes soybean demand will outweigh the added cost.

“We should be worried about this but, on the other hand, the world is using soybeans faster than the world is producing soybeans,” Ferguson said.

Lansing-based Democratic political consultant Joe DiSano has heard other reports out of Macomb County, ones not as optimistic as Ferguson’s.

“I’ve heard from people from northern Macomb County that soybean tariffs are absolutely going to destroy their profit margins,” he said.

DiSano, a Macomb County native, said opponents of fair trade agreements in 2016 voted for Trump in a desperate plea for change. But the potential harm a trade war would have on local jobs has left some in conflict, he said.

“This is pure political gamesmanship,” DiSano said of Trump’s tariffs. “It really doesn’t help the rank-and-file workers who are trying to scratch a living.”

A January poll of 600 likely Michigan voters found that Trump’s conduct in office has resulted in the approval of 39.5 percents, while 54 percent disapproved, according to a Glengariff Group Inc. poll provided to The Detroit News.

GOP political consultant Jamie Roe has a more positive outlook.

Roe, a Macomb County resident and co-founder of Grand River Strategies, said county residents have seen some of the positive impacts of Trump’s policy, including Fiat Chrysler Automotive’s bonuses in the wake of tax cuts in January and the 2,500 jobs FCA plans to add in two years when the company moves production of its heavy-duty Ram trucks from Mexico back to Macomb County.

John Paul Rae, Macomb County’s planning and economic development director, said conversations around the FCA commitment in Warren indicated that “changes in the corporate tax structure made that environment possible.”

The county is seeing more jobs, higher wages and more diversity across the business landscape, Rae said.

“While I maybe wouldn’t attribute that to a specific administration, I would point to macro-level trends contributing to that business growth,” he said.

Roe argues that concern about trade is one of the reasons people voted for Trump in Macomb County. He doesn’t the believe the potential impact of tariffs — be it positive or negative — will affect that support.

“I think the feeling toward President Trump right now is as strong as it’s ever been,” Roe said.

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Detroit News Staffer Richard Burr contributed.