Thursday, March 21, 2019

Other Democrats May Write Off Ohio, But It's A Key State For Bernie's Campaign


Yesterday, not long after Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson noted that he deserves a whipping for his vicious bad-mouthing John McCain, Señor Trumpanzee was off to Lima Ohio. His for-TV-backdrop was an Abrams tank plant, which he says was destined for closure before massive new military spending ($2 billion for tanks) revived orders. That's on the other side of the state from General Motors' now-idled factory in Lordstown that Trump has been screeching about for a couple of weeks, blaming Mary Barra, GM's CEO, the auto workers union and anyone else but his own policies for the shutdown. In fact, many people say that it was his own misguided and ego-driven actions "to save manufacturing" that have been battering the auto industry and eating into the overall economy of Midwest "rust belt" states. Politico reported that his "tariffs on steel and aluminum have cost Ford and GM about $1 billion each" and noted that "Barra cited the tariffs in November when she announced the 14,000 job cuts that included the Lordstown plant’s shuttering. Potentially making things even worse, Trump is now weighing new tariffs on foreign automobiles that could threaten hundreds of thousands of additional U.S. jobs."
“The reality is auto tariffs would put Ohio into a recession,” said Dan Ujczo, a Columbus-based international trade lawyer who has been closely studying the impact of recent trade actions on Ohio companies.

Ultimately, that could jeopardize Trump’s support in the Mahoning Valley and other blue-collar Great Lakes regions that voted for him in 2016.

“He’ll lose those the second he puts auto tariffs on,” Ujczo said. “These people understand you can’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” According to a Morning Consult tracking poll, Trump’s approval rating in Ohio has fallen 19 percentage points since January 2017.

While Trump is focused on exhorting GM not to shutter the Lordstown plant, where it makes the compact Chevrolet Cruze model, the industry’s economic reality is much more complicated.

Trump’s simple formula of demanding that specific plants should stay open doesn’t account for the sophistication of the global auto industry. The auto making supply chain is global; foreign companies build cars in the U.S. but with some foreign-made parts. Likewise, cars made abroad often contain American parts. And automakers move workers from plant to plant as demand for different kinds of autos shifts.

GM says the Ohio plant is closing because demand has softened for the Cruze; the company says it is talking to workers about relocating to other facilities.

It’s unusual for any president-- especially a Republican one-- to tell private manufacturers how to run their businesses. “There’s a school of thought that these decisions are best left to the companies and the unions,” said Marick Masters, director of the labor studies program at Wayne State University in Detroit.

It's even more unusual for a president to blame a labor union for a plant closing. Dave Green, president of the United Auto Workers local at Lordstown, appears to have infuriated Trump Sunday when he said on Fox News that Trump's 2018 tax cut incentivized imports. Or perhaps Trump was irritated at Green for letting the press know in February that he'd written the president about the Lordstown closing in July 2018 and received no reply.

Whatever the specific provocation, Trump tweeted Sunday that "Democrat UAW Local 1112 President David Green ought to get his act together and produce," then followed up with a tweet that noted GM's Barra "blamed the UAW Union" for the shutdown, prompting an angry retort from the UAW: "Corporations close plants, workers don’t.”

Trump’s previous efforts to intervene in vehicle plant closings have resulted in tepid gains at best.

Trump lashed into Ford during the 2016 campaign for shipping jobs to Mexico, then claimed credit in early January 2017 when Ford, in an unrelated move, announced that it would create 700 jobs in Michigan to build electric and self-driving cars-- while simultaneously expanding two plants in Mexico.

Trump was similarly irate in June 2018 when Harley-Davidson said it would offshore an unspecified number of jobs to offset the impact of European tariffs imposed in retaliation to Trump’s steel tariffs. Trump was so furious that he said he’d support a boycott of Harley-Davidson, prompting the company’s steepest sales drop in nearly a decade.

Trump’s protectionist policies are cutting into profits for automakers, even though they employ far more workers than the steel and aluminum industries the tariffs are designed to protect.
The auto industry employs around a million people, while steel and aluminum less than one tenth of that (combined). Since Trump's ill-starred tariffs went interplay, the steel industry has added 6,200 jobs and the aluminum industry 100 new jobs. Trump's policies have triggered a very steep decline in investment in the auto industry. Economists are shocked not so much that "Trump doesn't seem to understand that the automobile production process involves intensely global supply chains," but that there's no one around him who can explain this to him and make him understand that his policies are harming American industry.

The Washington Post's David Ignatius noted that "Trump's angry, backward-looking approach may still appeal to some Rust Belt voters. But in the Ohio and Pennsylvania towns that helped win the presidency for Trump in 2016, his vow to turn back the clock hasn't worked out very well, and there are signs the Rust Belt may be corroding for him politically."

He explained that "Lordstown's struggles, like those of other nearby mill towns, illustrate the harsh fact that manufacturing is a dynamic process. Old jobs are disappearing because of changes in technology or consumer preferences; trying to resist change is usually a fool's game. Rust Belt communities that are succeeding are the ones that have adapted by embracing new technologies and innovation. Presidential leadership in this period of technological transition should focus on the future, rather than the past. But Trump seems almost a technophobe."
After Trump's Twitter tirade, Rep. Tim Ryan, the Ohio Democrat who represents the Lordstown area, fired back: "The President's tweet ... is offensive and does nothing to help bring back the manufacturing jobs he promised to my district."

Ryan argued that "the best thing is to help" GM renovate Lordstown and perhaps build electric vehicles there. Local residents said much the same thing to the Youngstown Vindicator this month: GM or a new owner should focus on new technology and making products people want to buy, rather than restore production of the low-selling Chevrolet Cruze.

Trump is vulnerable in the Rust Belt because he made such extravagant promises when he successfully wooed voters in 2016. "He won this area-- a largely Democratic area-- and he has not said a word yet, and that's just pathetic," warned Jim Graham a former UAW leader at Lordstown, in an interview with the Vindicator back in November, when GM said it planned to halt Cruze production there.

Local residents remember Trump's proclamation at a July 2017 rally in nearby Youngstown: "Those jobs [that] have left Ohio, they're all coming back... Don't sell your house." Tommy Wolikow, a Lordstown worker, told the Vindicator: "I kind of turned into a Trump supporter at that time. I believed what he said... Almost two years later, I'm seeing nothing but job losses."

Homeowners in Youngstown certainly haven't seen a boom. According to Zillow, the online realty broker, the median price for a house in Youngstown is $39,900. The national median price of homes currently listed is $279,000. Browse the real estate ads for mill towns across Ohio and Pennsylvania and you'll see just how tough it is to be a Rust Belt resident, trapped in a downward cycle.

What's the right answer for Rust Belt towns where the old manufacturing base has disappeared? An interesting example is Erie, Pennsylvania. Most big factories there have closed in recent years, but the city is rebuilding itself around its local universities and a big insurance company. Profits from a big gambling casino in Erie County are funneled partly to "innovation spaces" at four local campuses.

Erie may have lost manufacturing jobs, but it's above the state average in advanced industries, says Ben Speggen, a local journalist who helps run a think tank in Erie called the Jefferson Educational Society. "There has been a real shift in understanding that our Rust Belt economy is not solely tied to manufacturing," he says.

Another key to success is welcoming foreigners. About 10 percent of Erie's population is refugees, according to James and Deborah Fallows in their recent book, Our Towns. One of the 10 characteristics they found in successful local communities adapting to change is that "they make themselves open."
In the 2016 primaries Both Hillary and Bernie got more votes than Trump in Erie County. In fact, Hillary and Bernie together got 37,341 votes. All six Republicans combined took just 30,050. But after months of Trump's extravagant and baseless promises, he beat Hillary in the general election by 2 points. Two years later there was a significant change. In the 2018 midterms, Democrat Bob Casey beat Trumpist Lou Barletta in Erie county-- and by a lot, 58.4% to 40.0%. Governor Wolf did even better there, beating the right-wing Trumpist Scott Wagner 59.8% to 38.7%. Erie County is entirely in the 16th congressional district now and incumbent Mike Kelly was reelected 51.6% to 47.3% against a weak Blue Dog Democrat. But not in the Erie part of the district. The county gave the Blue Dog a massive D+20 margin, almost enough to overcome Kelly's lead in the other 4 counties. Does this foreshadow a Democratic win in Erie County in 2020? Most likely, yes, unless the Democrats nominate another mushy centrist, like Hillary, with nothing to offer but a slick campaign and a bio.

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At 6:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OH has been one of the voting fraud and voter suppression states since 2000. Obamanation did nothing about any of that. So Bernie would have an uphill battle there. Kudos to him for not writing it off.

Too bad the DNC won't allow Bernie to win the nom.

At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Autoworkers have long known that they can't trust the automakers. So what made them trust Trump just because he said something that an experienced autoworker would know to be false?

Excepting the farmers, Trump's tariffs appear to be targeting industries with heavily unionized work forces. He appears to desire putting workers on subsistence wages if they get any at all.

Whoever is whispering in Trump's ear is certainly not an economist. It's my opinion that the so-called booming economy is a Potemkin facade hidden behind cherry=picked statistics to prevent anyone seeing the bubble.

Can we trade Trump for Hoover yet?

At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The DNC successfully thwarts Bernie again and trump wins over 350 electors. He may lose the popular by 10 million, but he'll win a landslide in the electoral college.

And only about 1.3% of americans will have that (incandescent) lightbulb go off indicating there's a problem there.

Fuck we're stupid!


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