With CHARLIE HARPER
ONE year from this morning, we’ll know who the Democratic and Republican party nominees are in a presidential election contest that will then only be six weeks away. And we’ll know if a third-party candidate or candidates have emerged to challenge America’s deeply entrenched two-party political duopoly.
But this morning and this week, it seems pretty clear that we have also learned something pretty important already. What we have learned is that organized labour in the United States is not going to allow its considerable organizing and financial heft to be divided in such a way that favours Donald Trump.
A selective United Auto Workers strike continues to target certain facilities of America’s “Big Three” legacy automobile manufacturers, leading presidential contenders Joe Biden and Trump are appearing in Michigan to make news and garner headlines.
In becoming the first-ever sitting US president to join a picket line, Biden aims to reinforce his status as “labour’s best friend”. While proclaiming his official neutrality in the wage and benefits dispute between auto workers and manufacturers, Biden did reference the significant concessions made by workers over a decade ago to enable the Big Three to stay in business in the aftermath of the “Great Recession” of 2008-09.
Now, the Big Three are racking up billions of dollars in profits, and Biden agrees with the UAW that auto workers should share in this increased profitability. He said so again on Tuesday.
Trump visited Michigan yesterday, and his reception was markedly different. It says here that this difference will persist, deepen, and lead to a restoration of organised labour’s traditional embrace of the Democratic Party and most of its candidates for elective office.
As one of America’s most powerful trade unions, the UAW has long served as a bellwether for organised labour in the US. And its hostile response to Trump’s appearance at a non-union facility serves as a preview for labour’s likely role in next year’s political campaign.
Outspoken UAW president Shawn Fain has loudly proclaimed that he wouldn’t meet with Trump in Michigan.
“I find a pathetic irony that the former president is going to hold a rally for union members at a non-union business,” Fain said in an interview that aired on CNN Tuesday.
“All you have to do is look at his track record — his track record speaks for itself,” he added.
Fain said that during the recession 15 years ago, Trump blamed UAW members and their contracts “for everything that was wrong with these (automobile manufacturing) companies”. He also accused Trump of being unsupportive during a previous major strike.
“The ultimate show of how much he cares about our workers was when he was the president of the United States. Where was he then?” Fain asked, recalling a General Motors strike in September and October of 2019. “(Our members) were out there on the picket lines. I didn’t see him hold a rally. I didn’t see him stand up at the picket line and I sure as hell didn’t hear him comment about it. He was missing in action.”
About his decision not to meet with Trump on Wednesday in Detroit, Fain said: “I see no point, because I don’t think the man has any bit of care about what our workers stand for, what the working class stands for. He serves a billionaire class and that’s what’s wrong with this country.”
Trump said this in response to an NBC reporter: “The autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump.”
Trump added that “I think he’s (the UAW president) not doing a good job in representing his union, because (at this rate) he’s not going to have a union in three years from now.”
There has been continuing concern among Democratic strategists that Trump’s appeal to disaffected blue-collar Americans could divide organised labour rank and file members to the major detriment of Biden’s re-election chances. And it is true that Trump’s populist, bitterly resentful, xenophobic message does have appeal to many industrial workers in the US. He has been able to reach the hearts and minds of American workers as has no national Republican since Ronald Reagan.
But this week’s events gave evidence that at least for America’s most powerful trade union, Trump has frittered away that advantage. It’s an important development for Biden.
Meantime, while Trump was in Michigan, he was also avoiding the second GOP presidential debate of the 2024 campaign, which was held in Southern California. Trump’s lead in the current polls over his challengers is so huge that most of the major American media agreed with his public assessment that he had little if anything to gain by participating in the debate.
Unspoken but also discussed was the corollary: If he were to participate in one of these debates, Trump might unwittingly give some greater life to one of his challengers if he lost his composure, said something both egregious and damaging, or otherwise wobbled on national TV.
For the debate, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum appeared for the debate.
Did you watch it? Could you even find it in your cable TV menu if you had wanted to watch it? Fox appears to have given up on this debate’s potential as a ratings leader once Trump announced he would not be present.
The candidates who did appear did so by meeting the Republican National Committee’s strengthened polling and fundraising standards for Wednesday’s debate. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who participated in the first Republican presidential primary debate, did not make the cut this time. Hutchinson, whose manner and policy positions are far too moderate for the appetites of the contemporary Republican Party, was always running a dead-on-arrival candidacy anyhow. He won’t be missed by many.
Maybe the seven other contenders are actually in the same position. There is already much speculation that they are still running to burnish their credentials for 2028, or to raise their profile for a potential position in a renewed Trump administration, either as his vice-presidential nominee or for a cabinet position.
Meanwhile, Trump’s decision to boycott this debate has exacerbated the already difficult position of Ronna McDaniel. She is currently in her fourth term as chair of the powerful Republican National Committee, and won re-election to that post earlier this year with the tacit support of Trump.
But it is the RNC that organises and hosts these campaign debates, and Trump’s scornful disdain of them – and his apparent success in maintaining such a dismissive attitude without any apparent consequences with GOP voters – has made McDaniel and her RNC colleagues look weak and irrelevant.
McDaniel previously served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party from 2015 to 2017. And she is the niece of Utah Senator and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, which makes her the grand-niece of 1960s era Republican heavyweight and former Michigan Governor George Romney.
Since McDaniel’s 2017 election as chairwoman of the RNC, however, the Republican Party’s record is such that were it not for Trump’s support, she would have been fired years ago. In fact, rumours persist that Trump asked her to stop using her middle name – Romney – after he had a falling-out with her uncle.
Under her leadership – and Trump’s – the GOP has had a net loss of seven governorships, three seats in the United States Senate, 19 seats in the House of Representatives, and the presidency. In December 2022, well-respected on-line journal Axios opined that McDaniel “has thus far failed to preside over a single positive election cycle”.