Trump promised to return lost jobs to industrial America. Why is General Motors laying off 15,000?

GM will idle production at four auto plants in Trump country – a counterpunch to the president's vows of prosperity

Published November 27, 2018 5:07PM (EST)

 (Getty/Photo Montage by Salon)
(Getty/Photo Montage by Salon)

President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday to cut all of General Motors' subsidies – one day after the automaker announced it would idle production at five automotive plants in the U.S. and Canada and lay off nearly 15,000 workers.

"Very disappointed with General Motors and their CEO, Mary Barra, for closing plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland. Nothing being closed in Mexico & China. The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get! We are now looking at cutting all GM subsidies, including for electric cars," Trump tweeted Tuesday.

In a second tweet, the president added, "General Motors made a big China bet years ago when they built plants there (and in Mexico) - don’t think that bet is going to pay off. I am here to protect America’s Workers!"

GM's aggressive cost-cutting plan suggests that the economy could be starting to slow. It also marks a huge blow to Trump's repeated promise to return lost jobs and prosperity to industrial America.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Trump bragged about boosting the economy while campaigning in Mississippi for Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, the embattled Republican who has faced mounting backlash over racially divisive incidents that surfaced in the weeks following the general election.

Hyde-Smith faces a runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, a former U.S. secretary of agriculture, in the race to fill longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran's seat. Because neither Hyde-Smith or Espy garnered more than 50 percent of the vote on Election Day — both received slightly more than 40 percent — the race advanced to a runoff on Nov. 27, which polling had predicated. Tuesday's race marks the last Senate race of the 2018 midterm election cycle.

"For years, you watched as powerful forces in Washington shipped away your jobs. You saw that. You saw that. That's changing," Trump said. "You see what's coming in – so many companies coming in to Mississippi. And everyplace else, by the way."

Before leaving the White House on Monday for his planned events in Mississippi, the president publicly scorched GM CEO Mary Barra over her decision to shutter operations at factories in Ohio, Maryland and Michigan amid a slowdown in new-car sales, especially sedans, as costumers have gravitated toward larger cars as a result of low gasoline prices.

"I was very tough. I spoke with her when I heard they were closing, and I said: 'You know, this country has done a lot for General Motors," Trump said, referring to the federal bailout of the company after the 2008 financial crash. "You better get back in there soon. That's Ohio, and you better get back in there soon.'"

"We have a lot of pressure on them," he added. "You have senators and a lot of other people, a lot of pressure."

Trump said the company should find a product that sells better than the Chevrolet Cruze compact — a sedan model that General Motors announced it would stop manufacturing in early 2019 on Monday. It is the only vehicle its Lordstown, Ohio plant produces.

"I think you're going to see something else happen there, but I'm not happy about it," Trump said. "Their car is not selling well. So they'll put something else — I have no doubt that — in a not-too-distant future, they'll put something else. They better put something else in."

The president also said that he believes GM's decision "has nothing to do with tariffs" imposed by his administration on China and the European Union. While Barra said no single factor led to GM's cutbacks, the New York Times notes that GM in June "slashed its profit outlook for the year, because tariffs were driving up production costs, raising prices even on domestic steel."

Trump has repeatedly boasted about bringing manufacturing jobs to the U.S., even easing regulations to encourage the return of factory jobs across the country. During an October 2016 campaign rally in Warren, Michigan — the site of a transmission plant that will cease production in 2019 — Trump vowed, "If I'm elected, you won't lose one plant, you'll have plants coming into this country. You're going to have jobs again. You won’t lose one plant — I promise you that."

On Election Day, four states with significant ties to the auto industry — Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — propelled Trump to victory in 2016. Those states, according to the Washington Post, provided Trump with "nearly a quarter of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory."

During a July 2017 visit to Youngstown, Ohio, approximately 20 miles from the Lordstown, Ohio plant that GM said would halt production in 2019, Trump lamented the empty factories in the area and pledged to restore manufacturing there.

"They're all coming back. They're all coming back. Don't move. Don't sell your house," the president told a cheering crowd. "We're going to fill up those factories — or rip them down and build new ones."

In addition, the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale pointed out on Twitter that the president has claimed this month that car plants would be opening in multiple states, including Michigan and Ohio.

For now, it remains unclear how GM's decision to halt automobile production and cut jobs will impact Trump's reelection prospects. On Tuesday, the president's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that the administration felt "disappointment maybe even spilling over into anger" over GM's plans.

By Shira Tarlo

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