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Although the Democratic Party often seems to have gone identity politics-crazy, even many in its identity-obsessed progressive wing believe that President Trump won’t be defeated in the 2020 Presidential election unless the party improves its performance with non-college educated white voters, many of whom work in so-called blue collar industries like manufacturing and fossil fuel extraction. Many of these progressives (including the Mainstream Media journalists who often carry their water) have claimed that this constituency is ripe for the retaking thanks to alleged Trump policy failures or blunders on trade, tax reform, and healthcare, and proceed to cite evidence that the President’s backing in this segment of his coalition is fading significantly.

Given the latest Trump healthcare position – which I agree is block-headed – and his penchant for inconsistency on core issues like immigration as well as trade, I’d be the last person to dismiss this analysis as naive. The more so if Democrats nominate a 2020 candidate with at least some credibility on blue collar social and cultural as well as economic concerns.

But if you’re looking for reasons for deep skepticism, look no farther than a recent account of a Trump Ohio factory visit from B.J. Bethel, of Dayton, Ohio’s WDTN TV. Bethel, (who in the interest of full disclosure, is also a personal friend), covered the President’s March 20 appearance at a Lima, Ohio tank factory.

Mr. Trump’s prospects in Lima seemed mixed. On the one hand, his defense budget proposals have kept the factory open following talk during the Obama administration of closing it. On the other, his trip came two weeks after General Motors completed (for now) the shutdown of a big auto assembly plant in Lordstown in northeastern Ohio – despite Mr. Trump’s campaign pledge to keep the facility open. Moreover, since the Lima factory makes weaponry, its non-supervisory workers belong to government employee unions, which have been especially critical of the President at least partly since their members haven’t been directly affected by the kinds of offshoring-friendly trade policies and Open Borders immigration policies of his predecessors.

Nonetheless, as Bethel wrote for WDTN’s website, “Trump received a rousing ovation when he entered the floor where the speech was held.” His speech was “loved” by the attendees he interviewed. And the President seems to have received his biggest cheers when he “hit hard at union leaders while praising union workers, stating the leaders often say one thing and do another.”

According to Bethel, “‘They’re [the union leaders] good guys, but they’re Democrats,’ Trump said.

He mentioned ‘high union dues’ paid by workers and the shifting of blue collar allegiances from Democrats to Republicans.

This was the only instance of his speech where the crowd chanted ‘Trump, Trump.'”

In some subsequent Twitter direct messages, Bethel elaborated:

Trump goes off on Lordstown, and blames the union leadership for some of the issues GM had at the plant, which I think is debatable, but Trump is savy, he knows what he’s doing.

He talks about union leadership, and he’s so casual in this speech, and he says, ‘I’ve invited union leaders into the White House, I asked them what can we do, they’re extremely nice people, THEY AREN’T LIKE US, THEY’RE DEMOCRATS THOUGH and they’re always going to be democrats, so you know, they go with Hillary while I’m trying to save jobs.’

Then he pivots to this and it’s the most amazing thing I’ve heard a politician do.

He starts hammering union leadership on the basis of how they treat the rank and file in the union. Basically they aren’t doing what’s necessary to back up the money they make and aren’t doing everything they need to do to. And look at the dues you pay, how much do you pay in dues a week or year and how much do you get out of it?

So how does the crowd react?

It roars, ‘TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP’ – only time during the entire speech he had his name cheered.

This is a huge union plant. It’s public union, as solid as it gets, their own committeeman are sitting around with them, and they’re cheering Trump as he bashes the leadership.”

As Bethel concludes, “so the GOP is working the unions hard, even the public unions. Trump beats up the leadership, while the rest go in soft. it’s a strategy to completely usurp union workers and complete taking over the working class.”

What’s especially interesting is that this Trump event was extensively covered by the Mainstream Media – as is almost all presidential travel. But the overwhelming focus of the coverage was the President’s attacks on his longtime political adversary, the late Republican Senator John McCain. (See, e.g., here and here.) 

I can’t possibly fault the journalists attending the speech from zeroing in on the McCain remarks. But revealingly, none of the coverage I’ve read (produced mostly by White House correspondents who tend to be politics-oriented, especially as national political campaigns heat up), mentioned the crowd’s reactions to the union-leader bashing by Trump.

The President has been erratic enough to render hazardous any predictions about the 2020 election. But the same Mainstream Media correspondents who overlooked the union rank-and-file response to the President in Lima belong to the same journalistic complex that was taken completely by surprise by Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory – and especially by his strength in the industrial Midwest. Their Lima coverage raises the question of whether they’re about to miss the mark again.

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