Trump Set for Much-Needed Trip to Middle America

President will meet blue-collar workers amid doubts over commitment to 'America first' agenda

by Jim Stinson | Updated 17 Apr 2017 at 1:34 PM

President Donald Trump will jet into Wisconsin on Tuesday to make an appearance at Snap-on Inc., a toolmaker that manufactures its products in the United States.

Trump’s implicit message, in a state that helped seal his Electoral College win, is that he’s not forgotten the blue-collar workers that sent him to Washington to fight for American jobs.

“His visit to Wisconsin, a state no GOP presidential candidate won since 1984, demonstrates his commitment to that promise.”

Amid increased attention on foreign conflicts and internal drama at the White House, the visit offers Trump a much-needed opportunity to convince voters that restoring American manufacturing and boosting “Hire American” policies remain his top priorities.

Wisconsin remains among the states with the highest percentage share of manufacturing jobs in the nation. About 16 percent of Wisconsin’s workers are employed in the manufacturing sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Snap-on, based in Kenosha, manufactures tools and automotive diagnostics equipment. But it no longer has manufacturing operations in Kenosha, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Instead, its headquarters has engineers, technicians, and other office employees.

The company, which has annual revenue of $3.4 billion, also operates a distribution center in Kenosha, according to the Journal Sentinel.

The visit will recast Trump’s attention on the very real struggles of American manufacturers. About one in five Wisconsin manufacturing and production workers use public-assistance programs, according to a report from the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

Boosting manufacturing in the Midwest and Pennsylvania was a key promise from Trump during his long 2016 campaign. The president frequently promised to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and to crack down on Chinese currency manipulation, which keeps Chinese products at artificially low prices. He also vowed to craft pro-manufacturing policies.

Trump surprised many of his supporters when he reversed his position on labeling China a currency manipulator last week, after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida earlier this month. The fallout was immediate, with labor unions blasting the decision not to crack down on China.

While the mainstream media declared that Trump's more flexible position was a moderating of his views, the labeling of nations as currency manipulators is not radical. Former President Clinton declared China a currency manipulator in 1994. And former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Republican, said in 2012 that he might slap the label on China.

Trump defended his shift on Twitter Sunday, tying the reversal to promises of cooperation from China on containing an increasingly bellicose North Korea.

"Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem?" Trump tweeted. "We will see what happens."

But Trump never indicated on the campaign trail he would tie trade policy to foreign policy. The decision is not likely to help the manufacturing sector in the so-called Rust Belt. So Trump will be expected to explain how the actions he is taking fit into an "America first" vision in Wisconsin.

Some early supporters believe the visit itself is filled with symbolic value about the priorities of the president.

"President Trump made supporting businesses, the ones who create jobs a cornerstone of his campaign," said Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke in a statement to LifeZette, "His visit to Wisconsin, a state no GOP presidential candidate won since 1984, demonstrates his commitment to that promise."

The decision to get out in front of the American people comes at a crucial time for the president.

A new poll from Gallup, released early Monday, finds a majority of Americans no longer view Trump as keeping his promises.

The public's confidence in Trump's promises was at 62 percent in February, but by early April, only 45 percent felt confident Trump would keep his promises.

The Washington Post described the drop as "stunning."

On Tuesday, Trump gets an opportunity to explain his new flexibility to voters and workers he will need to win the Rust Belt again. Trips to such "purple" states keep Trump in touch with the people who brought him to the White House, and takes him away from the advice that Washington and Wall Street insiders are whispering into his ear daily.

But if Trump keeps adjusting his policies on trade, he is likely to have to keep visiting the Rust Belt as much as he stays in Florida, all the way through 2020.

  1. #Wisconsin
  2. Currency Manipulation
  3. Donald Trump
  4. Nafta
  5. Snap-on