Donald Trump

The billionaire businessman stumps in the Midwest as he leads the field of candidates in the Republican presidential race.

By David Weigel
August 15, 2015

FLINT, Mich. — A few hours before Donald Trump’s plane landed, 20 minutes south of where he would speak, people gathered outside the Flint Assembly Plant to take a peek into the past. Some of them were retired, reuniting with friends. All of them remembered how there used to be more to the place.

“I worked at Plant 36,” said Jerry Hubbard, who retired in 2001, after outlasting his part of the vast “Buick City” complex that was dismantled as the auto jobs left. “It’s all gone. It’s all limestone. You can’t rape a place like that. General Motors jobs made this place.”

Only one presidential candidate seemed to care: Donald Trump. “A lot of what he says hits a chord with me,” said Hubbard. “Immigration and jobs going to China — this area’s really suffered from that. I just like somebody that stands up for what he speaks about.”

Trump’s rise and persistence as a presidential candidate has been credited to name recognition, to voter anger and to a specific contempt for the Republican Party establishment. But he is also the candidate talking most directly about the loss of manufacturing jobs to foreign countries.

In the Democratic race, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has adopted a similar theme, but Trump’s appeal here captured something that went beyond policy: a brew of impossible nostalgia coupled with a pledge to destroy other countries, most notably China, in negotiations. On Twitter, “Make America Great Again” is a goofy, meme-ready slogan, best displayed on ironic hats. There are places, such as Michigan, where it makes real sense.

That was on full display at a rollicking news conference and campaign rally where Trump again and again attacked “stupid” American leaders who were buffaloed by “cunning” Mexican and Chinese politicians.

Flint and Saginaw, the cities south and north of Trump’s speech on Tuesday, had voted for Democrats — Democrats who were trying to bring new businesses and infrastructure on the brownfields abandoned by big employers. And then came Trump, promising the moon and stars.

“Obviously, he’s saying things that are popular,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, the Democrat who represents Flint and a swath of cities and small towns north around Lake Huron. “We need to be able to fight against currency manipulation with all the tools against us.”

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