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Trump: 'A vote for Biden is vote to ... eviscerate your auto industry'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Washington Township — In frigid winds and dustings of snow, President Donald Trump touted his record on Michigan's economy and promised to deliver for automakers and other manufacturers during a rally in one of the state's most pivotal counties. 

Trump started his address by telling Macomb County residents that he'd already delivered on plants in a state that was "hemorrhaging" auto jobs in 2016 — a claim not supported by federal jobs data — and would have many more jobs "moving in." 

Throughout his roughly one-hour speech, Trump consistently reminded the crowd of the jobs they stood to lose if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is elected, he would "eviscerate" the auto industry.

"We've been doing things like nobody's ever done, cut your taxes, cut your regulations and ensure that more products are proudly stamped with those beautiful words, that beautiful phrase, 'Made in the USA,'" Trump said. 

The Republican president also warned against extreme environmental policies that would fail to deliver the energy needed to power Michigan plants and manufacturers. In the last presidential debate, Biden said he wanted to "transition" away from the oil industry.

"China doesn't do it. Russia doesn't do. India doesn't do it," Trump said. "We will be at such a competitive disadvantage, we might as well just fold up the deck."

Thousands of people attended the event, one of 14 stops — including three in Michigan — the Trump campaign planned to make over the weekend and Monday before Election Day.

As they neared security, people were given hand warmers and masks that they were asked to wear as they went through security. Most attendees did not wear masks.

Michigan's third most populous county, Macomb County swung right in 2016 and helped Trump eke out a 10,704-vote victory in Michigan over then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 

In 2012, then-President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won the county by 4 percentage points. Four years later, Trump won it by 12 percentage points, or about 48,000 votes, in a win that helped him to patch losses in other areas of the state, including neighboring Oakland County. 

Trump's rally in Washington Township will be followed by a Monday evening rally in Traverse City and Monday night event in Grand Rapids, the same location where he ended his 2016 campaign. 

The president cited an early October Gallup poll that found 56% of Americans surveyed said they were better off than they were four years ago. Trump also said the average household has gained $6,500 in income during the first three years of his administration.

He also played up the 33.1% jump in gross domestic product or economic activity in the third quarter announced last week as businesses reopened across the country. The second quarter GDP fell 32.9% when states, including Michigan, imposed lock-downs and imposed restrictions on businesses to try to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The income claim appears to be based on monthly data from January 2017, when the president was inaugurated, to August 2019, according to Sentier Research. But the gain was closer to $5,000 — $60,973 in January 2017 to $65,976 in August 2019 — and is based on monthly data that are more volatile than annual data.

Other fact checkers have said Trump includes gains from tax cuts to reach the president's household income gain figure. 

Although Biden was part of the Obama administration that helped the auto industry rebound from the Great Recession, the Republican president said Biden would be bad for the auto industry. He noted that Biden backed the North American Free Trade Agreement and wants to phase out the oil industry that the auto industry relies on.

"A vote for Biden is a vote to completely eradicate, I mean you will eviscerate your auto industry," Trump said.

The former vice president has said he wants to create 1 million auto jobs by promoting electric vehicle research and development. In the final presidential debate, Biden said he wanted to "transition" away from oil and gas industry to renewable energy.

President Donald Trump address supporters Sunday at Total Sports Park in Washington Township.

General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. have committed billions of dollars to research and make electric vehicles in the next few years as part of its push toward autonomous vehicle development. But electric vehicle sales remain a minuscule part of annual auto sales.

Democratic former Gov. Jim Blanchard took issue with Trump's claims, arguing the Obama-Biden rescue of Chrysler and General Motors Co. was a success. Blanchard was on the board of directors for Chrysler from 2009-2012, when the Obama administration took it through an expedited bankruptcy.

"We expanded Jeep production in Detroit, made major investments here and also expanded production in Toledo," Blanchard said Sunday. "Thousands of jobs. We had major rallies with Obama at the Detroit and Toledo Jeep plants." 

Michigan added 33,000 auto manufacturing jobs over the final four years of President  Barack Obama’s administration, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The state had lost about 2,400 auto manufacturing and parts jobs from January 2017 through February 2020 — before the pandemic hit Michigan, according to the BLS. 

Trump and Congress replaced NAFTA in January with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which requires automakers to produce cars with 75% of parts originating from the U.S., Canada or Mexico to qualify for duty-free treatment. The requirement is an increase from 62.5% under the NAFTA rules. 

Trump supporters wait to enter the Total Sports complex for the outside Trump rally in Washington Township on Sunday.

Trump interrupted his speech a few times to note the wind in his face and the cold. The temperature hovered around 40 degrees but the wind chill dipped far lower during the rally.

"This is a crazy place, but we love Michigan," he said, adding at another point that "I'm not a diva."

A protester who had entered the press section and held a sign saying Trump is obese was escorted from the premises early in Trump’s address.

Biden and former President Barack Obama held Saturday rallies in Flint and on Detroit's Belle Isle where they attacked the president's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and economy.

"Instead of implementing a plan to get the virus under control, President Trump has resorted to blaming doctors for inflating the number of COVID-19 cases. This must stop," the Biden campaign said in a Sunday statement.

"In two days, Michiganders can get this country back on track. We can bring our country together, implement a plan to get the pandemic under control and build our economy back by creating millions of high-paying union jobs. Go vote, Michigan."

In 2018, amid ongoing clashes with the press, Trump spurned the White House Correspondents' dinner in Washington, D.C., to spend time with "patriotic Americans" in the other Washington — Washington Township. 

Trump campaigned in Macomb County before the March 2016 primary and during the general election campaign, appealing successfully to blue-collar workers and “Reagan Democrats." He campaigned at Freedom Hill amphitheater in Sterling Heights on the Sunday before the November 2016 election.

His Sunday rally will be his third in Michigan in less than a week. He campaigned in Lansing on Tuesday and Waterford on Friday, promising voters the country was "rounding a corner" on COVID-19 response. 

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com