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Commentary: Trump Seems To Think He Can Tweet GM's Lordstown Plant Back To Life

In this March 14, 2016 photo, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump addressed the crowd at a plane-side rally at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna, Ohio.
Gene J. Puskar
In this March 14, 2016 photo, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump addressed the crowd at a plane-side rally at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna, Ohio.

How's this for bad campaign optics?

Wednesday night, at a private country club in Stark County, just outside of Canton, President Trump will be with high-roller supporters who are willing – and able – to pay $50,000 per person and $70,000 per couple to dine with the president at a fundraiser for his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.

About 55 miles away, in the Trumbull County village of Lordstown, sits a massive auto manufacturing plant which, until a few weeks ago, turned out GM's Chevy Cruze automobile. The gates are locked now and the assembly lines are empty. The over 1,400 people who worked there are out of work, at least for the time being, and are anxious for their union, the United Auto Workers, to work out something with GM to give the plant a new purpose.

Turn the clock back to July 2017. A massive rally at the Covelli Center in Youngstown, not far from the Lordstown plant, one of the many self-congratulatory rallies the president has held around the country since the 2016 election, including here in Cincinnati.

In the heart of the Mahoning Valley, where the steel industry collapsed years ago, and within a short drive of the Lordstown plant, struggling to stay above water at a time when people were no longer buying economy cars like the Cruze in droves, Trump had a message for a region of the state which voted overwhelmingly for him the year before.

He told them of driving through the Mahoning Valley in his motorcade and seeing all the shut-down factories. He said his wife Melania asked him what had happened to all of those plants.

"I said, those jobs have all left Ohio. They’re all coming back. They’re all coming back. Don't move; don't sell your house," Trump said.

Now, another one has bitten the dust. The Lordstown plant has closed, after 53 years of operation, during which time its workers made 16 million vehicles.

And what has the president – who assured the Mahoning Valley that its jobs were coming back – done about this situation, a problem that could come back to haunt him in his re-election campaign?

Mostly, he has done what he does best: he's tweeted at it.

He said Sunday – in a tweet, of course – that he has talked to Mary Barra, the CEO of GM about Lordstown.

"I am not happy that it is closed when everything else in our country is BOOMING. I asked her to sell it or do something quickly. She blamed the UAW Union – I don't care, I just want it open!"

Then, for some reason, he lit into the president of United Auto Workers Local 1112, which represents the Lordstown workers. The union president, of course, also lost his job.

"Democrat UAW Local 1112 President David Green ought to get his act together and produce," Trump tweeted. "G.M. let our country down, but other much better car companies are coming into the U.S. in droves. I want action on Lordstown fast. Stop complaining and get the job done! 3.8% Unemployment!"

Both Green and GM itself have made it clear that it will be up to the company and the international union leadership to try to work something out in talks this summer.

Green has joined forces with local business leaders and elected officials of both parties to form , a coalition that is pushing for a resolution that will end in GM bringing a new product to the plant to be manufactured.

Dennis Willard, a spokesman for Drive It Home Ohio, said that "in some ways, we're on the same page with the president. He's saying some of the same things we are."

"We're just focused on reopening the plant, with all three shifts,'' Willard said.

"I really can't understand why Trump would go after David Green,'' said David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. "This is not a Democratic or Republican thing. Dennis Green has a lot of Republicans in his union. They want to go back to work, too.

"It just seemed unnecessary for the president to go after the union president when he himself has not been to Lordstown to show his support,'' Pepper said. "Senator Rob Portman, a Republican has; and so has Sherrod Brown, a Democrat. The Democratic congressman from the area, Tim Ryan, has worked very hard on this."

It was only a matter of time before somebody in the massive field of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination discovered Lordstown.

Beto O'Rourke of Texas was first. He had been in Cleveland for a campaign event Monday and took a side trip down to Lordstown to meet with Green at the Local 1112 union hall.

O'Rourke tweeted out Monday night that he was impressed by the union president:

"His leadership, the way he's fought for employees at GM's Lordstown plant & how he's conducted himself while being attacked by the president."

Wait and see how long it takes more Democratic presidential contenders to come to the defense of  David Green.

Before his high-dollar fundraiser today, Trump is scheduled to go to the other side of the state to tour the Lima Army Tank Plant – the last tank plant in the country. He will be making hay out of the fact that the defense budget includes $714 million to upgrade the M1 Abrams tank.

What if Trump were to decide to try to put out the Lordstown fire by heading 55 miles from his fundraising event and meet with Green in Lordstown, as O'Rourke did? He could do it before or after. Or instead of the tank plant.

Anything is possible. But we're not counting on it.

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

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Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.