Trump: Workers ‘better love me’

President touts economy, talks GM Lordstown during tour of tank plant in Lima

AP President Donald Trump takes a tour of the Lima Army Tank Plant on Wednesday in Lima. The president also took time to rally against the idling of the General Motors assembly plant in Lordstown during his visit.

LIMA — President Donald Trump returned Wednesday to Ohio with a tour of a tank plant, where he touted its revival, but also took time to rally against the closure of the General Motors assembly plant in Lordstown.

“What’s going on with General Motors? We have the best economy we’ve ever had, we have the lowest unemployment that we’ve had in 51 years … and what’s going on with General Motors? Get that plant open or sell it to somebody and they’ll get it done. Everybody wants it. Sell it to somebody or open it yourselves. Get it going now and the UAW (United Auto Workers) will help you. The UAW just promised they were going to help. Get it open now; don’t wait,” Trump said.

He also urged the UAW and GM to start talks on a new contract soon. The agreement they have now expires Sept. 14.

“Why do you have to wait months for? Get the discussion going, get it open. Lordstown is a great area. I guess I like it because I won so big there,” Trump said.

Trump’s visit to Lima comes days after he railed against the closure of the plant, a significant contributor to the economy. The plant, which produced Chevrolet Cruze sedans, closed March 6 despite bipartisan pressure on the automaker, which claimed it was responding to consumer demand for larger vehicle types.

Trump allies acknowledged the president may be limited in what he can accomplish for the Lordstown plant, but they said his vocal advocacy signaled to his supporters in the area that he is fighting on their behalf.

The stop also happened just days after Trump went to Twitter starting Saturday to persuade GM to reopen the plant, but degraded Sunday into a criticism of UAW Local 1112 President Dave Green, who on Sunday appeared on Fox News to discuss Trump’s tweet on Saturday and the idled auto plant.

Trump also Sunday tweeted about a phone conversation he had with GM CEO Mary Barra, “She blamed the UAW union,” although the company disputed the president’s account.

David Pepper, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman, blasted Trump’s criticism of the UAW leader, saying, “Trump couldn’t have offended more of the nerves that are at the heart of the Valley than he just did.”

U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland, likewise blasted Trump after his appearance in western Ohio, calling Trump’s words “empty rhetoric.”

“This closure has a ripple effect that touches everything and everyone. Northeast Ohio is set to lose more than $3 billion in economic activity, and what is the president doing to help? He attacked union leaders like Dave Green, who are fighting hard to save this plant and standing up for its employees. His disrespect toward Dave is disgraceful. That’s not leadership, and it’s beneath the office of the President of the United States. Right now, the president is selling us the past. But our community is ready to move forward,” Ryan said in a release.

Drive It Home Ohio, the local grassroots coalition working to convince GM to assign a new vehicle to the plant, of which Green is co-chairman, declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.

Trump could not resist using the visit to criticize the late Sen. John McCain, saying McCain “didn’t get the job done for our great vets in the VA” and claiming that he badly hurt the Republican Party and the nation with his vote against repealing the health care overhaul put in place under President Barack Obama. McCain died last year of brain cancer.

Trump’s visit to Ohio marked his first trip to the state since last year’s midterm election campaign, when the state was a rare bright spot for Republicans in the upper Midwest. But with Trump’s path to another four years in the White House relying on a victory in the state, his nascent campaign is mindful of warning signs that Ohio can hardly be taken for granted in 2020.

Perhaps no state has better illustrated the re-aligning effects of Trump’s candidacy and presidency than Ohio, where traditionally Democratic-leaning working-class voters have swung heavily toward the GOP, and moderate Republicans in populous suburban counties have shifted away from Trump. It’s for that reason, administration officials said, that Trump keeps returning to Ohio — this week’s visit marks his 10th to the state since taking office.

The visit is part of a 2020 Trump strategy to appear in battleground states in his official White House capacity as much as possible this year, said a person with knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly. Trump is expected to make similar trips throughout the year as he seeks to boost enthusiasm to counter an energized Democratic base. It’s a strategy employed by previous presidents, both to leverage the prestige of the office for political purposes and to offset the steep costs of presidential campaign travel with corresponding taxpayer-funded events.

Trump visited the Lima Army Tank Plant, which had been at risk for closure but is now benefiting from his administration’s investments in defense spending. He also held a fundraiser for his re-election campaign in Canton.

“You better love me,” he told workers. “I kept this place open.”

In this manufacturing state, Trump cited efforts he’s taken to negotiate new trade agreements and enact tariffs to protect steel manufacturers. He described how his administration has confronted China on its trading practices because the days of “stealing” American jobs and ideas have come to an end.

For both parties, the results of the 2018 midterms have become a sort of “choose-your-own-adventure” moment for 2020 prognosticators. Republicans contend that the election of the state’s GOP governor, Mike DeWine, largely mirrored Trump’s 2016 path to victory and proves the strength of his coalition. They believe Trump’s coattails in the state are long, as incumbent Republican congressional candidates in suburban counties — like Reps. Steve Chabot and Troy Balderson — won re-election last year in no small part because of the president’s frequent visits.

“He’s a fighter,” said Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken, “and that’s one of the reasons why if you look at the Mahoning Valley, that’s become a Republican portion of the state.”