Trump to Woo Striking Union Members in Detroit, Skipping 2nd G.O.P. Debate

Former President Donald J. Trump is planning to travel to Detroit on the day of the next Republican primary debate, according to two Trump advisers with knowledge of the plans, injecting himself into the labor dispute between striking autoworkers and the nation’s leading auto manufacturers.

The trip, which will include a prime-time speech before current and former union members, is the second consecutive primary debate that Mr. Trump is skipping to instead hold his own counterprogramming. He sat for an interview with the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that posted online during the first G.O.P. presidential debate in August.

The decision to go to Michigan just days after the United Auto Workers went on strike shows the extent to which Mr. Trump wants to be seen as looking past his primary rivals — and the reality that both he and his political apparatus are already focused on the possibility of a rematch with President Biden.

So instead of attending the next G.O.P. debate — on Sept. 27 in California at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum — Mr. Trump intends to speak to over 500 workers, with his campaign planning to fill the room with plumbers, pipe-fitters, electricians, as well as autoworkers, according to one of the Trump advisers familiar with the planning. Mr. Trump has not directly addressed the wage demands of striking workers and has attacked the union leadership, but he has tried to more broadly cast himself on the side of autoworkers.

The campaign is also considering the possibility of having Mr. Trump make an appearance at the picket line, although the adviser said such a visit, which could involve difficult logistics given the former president’s security protections, is unlikely.

The former president has long prided himself on his appeal to rank-and-file union workers — even as most union leaders have remained hostile to him, and as Mr. Biden has called himself the most pro-union president in history. In the 2016 campaign, an adviser to Mr. Trump, Paul Manafort, sought to establish a back channel with organized labor in Michigan and Wisconsin in the hopes the A.F.L.-C.I.O. would scale back its efforts to help the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. It did not appear to go anywhere, but underscored the areas that Mr. Trump considered vital in the general election.

Mr. Trump won Michigan in the 2016 election, one of the states in the so-called blue wall that crumbled for Democrats that year. But Mr. Biden carried Michigan by more than 150,000 votes in 2020, and it is seen as a critical state for Democrats in 2024.

The Trump campaign has produced a radio ad that will begin running on Tuesday in Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, trying to cast Mr. Trump as aligned with autoworkers. The same Trump adviser said the ad targeted union workers and men, and will air on sports and rock-themed stations.

“All they’ve ever wanted is to compete fairly worldwide and get their fair share of the American dream,” the narrator says in the ad. “Donald Trump calls them great Americans and has always had their backs.”

Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized the transition to electric vehicles, and in a post on his social media site Truth Social over the weekend, he called it an “Electric Car SCAM.” The radio ad also uses the Biden administration’s support for the transition to electric vehicles to attack Mr. Biden.

The ad does not specifically mention the strike, which began last week against all big three Detroit automakers, and in which the union is seeking a 40 percent wage increase over four years.

Ammar Moussa, a press officer for Mr. Biden’s campaign, said in a statement, “Donald Trump is going to Michigan next week to lie to Michigan workers and pretend he didn’t spend his entire failed presidency selling them out at every turn.”

Mr. Biden has sided with the striking workers, sending two top aides to Detroit and saying at the White House hours after the strike began that “workers deserve a fair share of the benefits they helped create.”

The United Auto Workers pointedly decided not to endorse Mr. Biden this spring ahead of the current labor clash, with the union’s new president, Shawn Fain, expressing concern about the labor elements of the transition to electric vehicles. At the same time, in a memo, Mr. Fain said Mr. Trump would be a “disaster” if he returned to the White House.

In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” broadcast over the weekend, Mr. Trump was critical of Mr. Fain, saying workers had been “sold down the river by their leadership.”

“I don’t know the gentleman, but I know his name very well, and I think he’s not doing a good job in representing his union,” Mr. Trump said. “Because he’s not going to have a union in three years from now. Those jobs are all going to be gone, because all of those electric cars are going to be made in China.”

In a statement after The New York Times reported on Mr. Trump’s Detroit plans, Mr. Fain said that “every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers.”

“We can’t keep electing billionaires and millionaires that don’t have any understanding what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to get by and expecting them to solve the problems of the working class,” he said.

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