The GM cuts affect factories in Michigan, Maryland, and Representative Ryan’s district in Ohio, which is home to the Lordstown GM complex. That plant, which currently produces the Chevy Cruze, has cut more than 3,000 jobs in the past two years, as it downsized from three shifts to one. GM has said that dropping workers and shifting its emphasis from the production of sedans, such as the Cruze, to more popular sport-utility vehicles will save it $6 billion annually.
The president joined congressional Democrats in criticizing the move, publicly chastising the automaker and threatening to eliminate GM’s subsidies on Twitter. He told reporters on Tuesday that he was “very tough” in a conversation with the company’s CEO, Mary Barra.
The strong reaction from the president stems from the promises he’s made for the past two years to bring manufacturing jobs—and general economic prosperity—back to the Rust Belt. “They’re all coming back. Don’t move, don’t sell your house,” Trump said during a 2017 visit to Youngstown, Ohio. “We’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build new ones.” It’s the same pledge he made time and again during the 2016 presidential campaign, perhaps most famously about the Carrier plant in Indiana, a “big, beautiful” air-conditioning company Trump vowed to keep in the United States but which later ended up laying off hundreds of workers.
The GM layoffs, then, come as a serious warning to Trump: If he fails to deliver on his promises, he could lose support in a region he needs to win to secure reelection—one that backed a Democratic president as recently as 2012. But that warning is also an opening for Democrats, activists and strategists told me: They’ve got a chance to step in with a compelling, pro-worker economic message of their own.
Trump has “presented us with an opportunity to eat away at the advantage he’s built with these voters,” said Matt Morrison, the executive director of Working America, the political-organizing arm of the AFL-CIO that advocates for progressive policies. “We are going to drive through that opening like a Mack truck … or, I should say, a Chevy Cruze.”
Since before the 2016 election, some Democrats have criticized their party for lacking an inspiring economic vision—one that appeals to a broad range of folks, from progressives living in solid-blue strongholds to white, working-class voters in red districts. Party leaders sought to remedy this in 2017 by announcing their “Better Deal” economic agenda, and by running a midterm-campaign program in which they endorsed strong candidates with working-class roots in red districts, such as Iowa’s Abby Finkenauer and Illinois’s Lauren Underwood, both of whom won their election.
Read: The fight for Iowa’s white, working-class soul
At the same time, since 2016 the party has been accused of overcorrecting: Many progressives argue that prioritizing Trump voters rather than doubling down on the party’s existing electorate is politically unwise. Those activists have been urging the party to forget moderates and Trump voters and tap into the potential of a multiracial coalition made up of African Americans, Latinos, and white progressives of various income levels—a more reliable subset of Democratic voters. “The way to win is to inspire and mobilize the progressive vote, but far too many people are focusing on the wrong sector,” Steve Phillips, the founder of the progressive organization Democracy in Color, told me in an interview earlier this year. “If you start electing people whose instinct is to compromise, that’s not going to undo the damage” caused by the Trump administration.