If there's anything that Morning Joe utterly hates to do, it's saying something positive about Donald Trump. Well, at least since 2016, that is.
So what does it take to get the show to stray from its Trump-hating tradition? Simple: have Trump side with the union over management in a labor dispute.
And thus it was that, as we say in our NewsBusters rubric, there was "sudden respect" for Trump on today's Morning Joe.
It came in response to the news that Trump will skip the second Republican debate, traveling instead to Detroit to give a primetime speech expressing his support for the autoworkers in their strike against Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis [owner of Chrysler and Dodge.]
From Joe Scarborough, to Jonathan Lemire, to Katty Kay, to Elise Jordan, Trump's plan to give a speech to the workers, and possibly even to join the picket line, was described as a "bold" and even a "smart" move.
We'll have to check the archives, but this was likely the first Morning Joe segment on Trump in some time in which Scarborough didn't denounce Trump as a "fascist." Joe did keep one of his traditions alive this morning, managing to work into his spiel the fact that he had been a congressman. Who knew?
It must be said that there are some nuances in the situation. Whereas the manufacturers are trying to obey all the government mandates pushing electric vehicles, the workers oppose them for a variety of reasons, principally that their production requires less labor than traditional internal-combustion vehicles.
And as was pointed out, Trump's 2016 victory was in part based on the appeal to unions and their members of his populist, anti-China message. So a good dose of working-class realpolitik in Trump's decision.
Then again, there are political risks for Trump in his support of the workers. Their demands will be seen by many as outrageous: 40 hours of pay for a 32-hour work week, and a 40% pay increase over four years. Agreeing to anything close to that would push already-high car prices even higher, angering the millions of Americans feeling the pinch of inflation.
Meanwhile, although Biden is obliged to support the UAW in its fight against management, Union Man Joe is in the uncomfortable position of backing the side bucking his dream of an all-electric fleet.
Here's the transcript.
6:35 am EDT
WILLIE GEIST: Republican frontrunner Donald Trump skipping the next primary debate, once again will attempt his own counterprogramming. The former president is planning to travel to Detroit on September 27th to give a primetime speech before current and former union members. It comes as thousands of autoworkers are currently on strike against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. The Trump campaign even considering having Trump make an appearance on the picket lines.
But the United Autoworkers Union is not welcoming the move, writing in a statement, quote, "Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers. We can't keep electing billionaires adn millionaires that don't have any understanding what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck."
So Shawn Fain, Joe, the president of the UAW, has been publicly critical, not just recently but in the past of Donald Trump. The union has not endorsed Joe Biden as yet in this case.
Jonathan, actually, I'll kick this to you. And so, Donald Trump in his Meet the Press interview on Sunday went after the leadership of the UAW. So there is a personal element to this. But again, Donald Trump trying to do something to create his own show
JONATHAN LEMIRE: Yeah, this is a real general election play by Donald Trump, on two levels. First of all, to suggest, hey, I'm too big to participate in the Republican primary, the Republican primary debates. I don't need to. I skipped the last one, my poll numbers only went up. By some measures, he's up 40, 50 points on the next highest Republican. So he's sending that signal.
But he's also making a move here about the November 2024 map. Of course, that's Michigan, that's Detroit. This, our union workers, and you are right. Shawn Fain, on our air a couple of weeks ago, the head of the UAW, was deeply critical of Donald Trump. He was again in that statement. It's clear that the leadership of that union isn't going to back Trump.
But, Trump people in his orbit believe that a lot of rank and file just might . . . This is an interesting maneuver by Trump to sort of put forth what's going to be a central conflict, electoral conflict, as we head into next fall.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, union workers have traditionally -- they've organized Democratic and voted Republican a lot. Working class voters have voted -- I even remember going back to, back to when I was running in '96. I was attacking unions that were attacking some of my friends in other races, and a guy came in to me, he was fixing my phone, and said, hey congressman, if you just keep your mouth shut, you're gonna get everybody's vote in the union. I was like, yes, sir. And it was an eye opener for me.
But that was the play that Donald Trump made in 2016. You'll remember near the end of the campaign, they moved forward with really, really populist messaging near the end of the campaign. And even he met with a couple of, I think, steelworker unions at the beginning of his presidency, I thought that was the direction he might be going in. It would cause a real problem for Democrats. But then, of course, he had the biggest giveaways to billionaires ever with his Trump tax cuts and he never looked back.
But this meeting, and this this, this push, is absolutely critical if he wants to win back Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
KATTY KAY: Yeah. He knows where these races are going to be won and lost, and where his chances of winning the White House and potentially even staying out of jail are going to be won or lost. And it's up in those states which are heavily union.
I have a really clear memory, in Ohio in 2016, of spending time in a steel town in northern Ohio, and talking to union members who had been life-long Democrats, and had switched parties in order to vote for Donald Trump because they so liked the populist message. They liked the anti-China message. They liked the fact that Donald Trump broke with Republican economic orthodoxy and said that he was going to shore up the welfare programs that they like, the social safety net that they like.
So there's a lot about Donald Trump that I imagine they can still find appealing. And it's a bold move to be going to Michigan in the middle of this strike, but it's not one that's uncharacteristic of him.
. . .
ELISE JORDAN: You see those moments where these issues on the far right, the far left, they just cross cut and then those voters come together. And sometimes, when you have voters in focus groups shifting from, you know, say, being a Hillary voter in 2016 to then going to Donald Trump in 2020, you say, ah, that's, uh, they're confused, they've gotten radicalized. With the Trump/Sanders voters, you saw where Donald Trump really tapped into something that other Republican leaders hadn't understood, that the populist forces taking over the party, that was the emerging future of the party.
And, you know, his speech, choosing to do that counterprogram and to be pro-autoworkers in Detroit, that is a good move for Donald Trump. It separates him from the rest of the Republican pack. It makes him look more, less business-friendly, and less for CEOs pay and more for the rank-and-file man.
You look at how J.D. Vance has just chosen to write an op-ed in support of the workers. This is a dramatic shift from where elite Republicans have been for so long. And Donald Trump is continuing to firm up his grasp on that part of the Republican electorate.