Trump Touts Economic Nationalism in Michigan Rally

On February 17, former President Donald Trump (R) spoke at an aircraft hangar packed with supporters in Waterford Township, Michigan, about 30 miles northwest of Detroit. Trump focused on his plans to reshore American manufacturing and revive the auto industry. He also touched on the recent indictments and court orders against him.

High import tariffs were central to Trump’s remarks on promoting manufacturing in the United States.

“Within a very short period of time, just through taxation of people that don’t love us,” Trump said, “we could get everybody to start moving back here because it wouldn’t be economically feasible for them to build in Mexico or China or other places.”

Trump cited his policy record on trade for having improved the economy: “I imposed a magnificent 27.5 percent tariff on all Chinese automobiles, and it remains in place to this day. You know why? [President Joe] Biden can’t take it off because they make so much money with it.”

He excoriated the North American Free Trade Agreement and celebrated its replacement, the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, which was negotiated during Trump’s presidency. Trump also touted his administration’s renegotiation of bilateral trade deals with Japan and South Korea.

Trump also proposed the “Trump Reciprocal Trade Act,” under which the US would impose matching retaliatory tariffs on any nation. ”It’s basically saying, ‘You screw us, and we screw you,’” Trump said.

Trump said the Biden administration’s emphasis on renewable energy would not support the economy. Instead, Trump advocated producing more fossil fuels. “I call it liquid gold,” he said. “We have more liquid gold than any country anywhere in the world, including Saudi Arabia, including Russia. And we don’t use it. We’re now buying oil from Venezuela.”

Trump also attacked the Biden administration on foreign policy, arguing that he is better equipped to handle the Israel–Hamas war and Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Trump’s visit was 10 days before the Michigan Republican and Democratic primaries, to be held on February 27. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump’s polling average is 80.8 percent in the Michigan primary. His only major rival in the primary, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, is polling at 19.0 percent.

Trump accused Haley of wanting to raise the minimum age to receive Social Security benefits by 10 years. “I will always defend Medicare and Social Security, unlike Birdbrain,” Trump promised, using his nickname for Haley, “and unlike, frankly, a lot of other people.”

Much of Trump’s speech was devoted to national policy issues and defeating Democrats in the November 5 general election. His plans included pledges to “change Washington, DC, and make it the safest place anywhere that you can be” and undertake the “largest deportation effort in the history of our country.” According to RealClearPolling, Trump is polling, on average, 4.8 percentage points higher than Biden in a hypothetical general-election matchup.

Trump also addressed the lawsuits that have followed him since leaving the presidency. The day before the rally, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur F. Engoron had ordered Trump and his businesses to pay a fine of more than $350 million for “submitting false financial statements to banks and insurance companies to obtain better rates on loans and insurance coverage.” New York state Attorney General Letitia James (D) brought the civil suit. Trump has been adamant that there were no victims of his and his companies’ actions.

“This is merely an election-interference ploy by a crazed lunatic attorney general — did you ever see this attorney general? She’s a lunatic — working closely with a very bad judge,” Trump told the crowd in Waterford Township.

Trump also criticized Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis’s criminal case against him for trying to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.

“These people, they’re not looking for justice. They only care about how to stop Crooked Joe Biden’s political opponent — that’s me — and how to inflict as much pain as possible,” Trump said.

Despite the legal challenges, Trump was optimistic about his chances of winning in November. “We won twice,” he said, “and now we’re going to win a third time. And the second time, we did better than we did the first.”

Editor’s note: This is the second campaign event of the 2024 election season that the Michigan Review has attended as press. Last week, the Michigan Review covered independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s rally in Grand Rapids.

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About Chris Coffey and Alex Stamell

Chris Coffey and Alex Stamell are the editors in chief of the Michigan Review.