Since the beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump has been talking about the United States’ trade deficit and “China ripping us off. ” Trump’s explanation for why the United States has a trade deficit and is “getting ripped off by everybody” has always been some doofy variation of “we have very stupid leaders."
In Racine, though, Trump rolled out a new, re-tooled, trade message on the why question.
It began with his top wonk, Stephen Miller, addressing the crowd for about 15 minutes, mainly on trade. Miller, who is on loan from Senator Jeff Sessions’ office, knows his stuff. He framed everything in terms of the main person blocking their way to the nomination, Senator Ted Cruz.
“Your middle class has shrunk more than any other state in this country. Why?” asked Miller. “Because your great jobs have gone overseas. They’ve gone to China, they’ve gone to Mexico, they’ve gone to Japan, because our politicians have surrendered your jobs, because they don’t care about you. And there is no man in this county that has fought harder to send your jobs overseas than Ted Cruz. In 2014, Ted Cruz did an interview with the Wall Street Journal and do you know what he said? He said he was eager—EAGER – to give Barack Obama more authority. Can Wisconsin vote for a man who wants to give Obama more authority to send your jobs overseas?”
“Wisconsin has lost 70,000 jobs, to China, since 2000. China has been cheating on its currency, it’s been subsidizing its products, including subsidizing paper, which is one of the most important industries in this state. Ted Cruz in 2011, when we were trying to crack down on China currency cheating, Ted Cruz sided with China. Will Wisconsin vote for a man who sides with China over America?”
After a brief intro by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (who focused mostly on the national crisis of former Packer great Jerry Kramer not being in the NFL Hall of Fame), Trump came out to greet the capacity crowd of 1,400, who gave him a rock star welcome. (He had announced his event only 16 hours beforehand. Although the weather outside was a driving sleet that felt like frozen tic tacs pelting your face, Trump surprised many by not only being able to fill the place, but having to turn many away.)
Trump started out stressing the importance of money in politics and why that’s the biggest single issue that separates him from other politicians. “What self-funding means is that I’m not controlled by the pharmaceutical industry. I’m not controlled by lumber. I’m not controlled by electric. I’m not controlled by anybody—I’m controlled by you.”
“You know, in Japan, they sell very few American products,” he continued. “ And remember “Made in the USA?” We used to have the sticker on everything. In Japan, they are very proud of their products—they don’t want products made in the USA. So we take their cars by the billions, but we send them very little. We call it an imbalance. They’re up here, we’re down here,” he says with his right hand way up and left hand way down. “We have to change it. We have to balance it out, folks.”
Trump juxtaposed himself with other politicians who he said are heavily influenced by campaign contributions.
“They’re politicians. They get their money from companies…They’re not going to do the right thing for you. They’re going to do the right thing for the (foreign) country and the right thing for their lobbyist and the right thing for their special interest, but they’re not going to do the right thing for you. Believe me. I know it.”
“You have lobbyists that specialize in certain Senators. If you want Senator X, you go to so-and-so on Pennsylvania Avenue. He’ll guarantee it. He’ll walk in and say, “‘This is what I want’ and it’s 100 percent. It’s like it’s emblazoned on their forehead: “CRUZ.” “KASICH.” “HILLARY.”
“Me? Nobody gave me anything,” he clarified. “OK? Nothing.”
“Somebody said these politicians are really stupid,” Trump continued, conveniently forgetting that that someone has always been him. “I say, no they’re not. They’re smart. They got a lot of campaign contributions from that company that came through that lobbyist. I mean, gimme a break folks, that’s what it is.”
Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has been saying largely the same thing. It’s an argument that has challenged Hillary Clinton’s path to the Democratic nomination, which surely has not gone unnoticed by the Trump campaign.
After Trump finished speaking, he gave autographs and photos to people who had mobbed the front of the stage, accompanied by a strange electric guitar solo track right out of an 1980s action movie.
The crowd was mostly white and male, but with a noticeable sprinkling of African Americans.
Nicki Addison, an African American woman in her thirties said that Trump’s message of bringing jobs back home strikes a chord with her. “My sister worked for Coca-Cola and they outsourced her job to Africa. I think he really does want America great with the job opportunities that he’s promising.” She then added, “I do like Trump, but some of things he’s said on abortion recently have really rubbed me wrong.”
Sandy Schwellenbach a 60-something white woman said that Trump’s message strikes the bullseye in Racine. I think the whole country has been hit, but we really see it here.” Schwellenbach also added, “I know that he puts his foot in his mouth, but most of the time he doesn’t have a plan—everyone else has been prompted. I do wish he’d tone it down it a little, though.”
Jeff, a forty-something from Racine ticked off all the companies that have recently left the area and said that he liked that Trump was going to “try and get something going again here.”
I asked Jeff, who declined to give his last name, what he did for a living. He shrugged and said, “self-employed… what else is there?”
Jud Lounsbury is a political reporter based in Madison, Wisconsin, and a regular contributor to The Progressive.