Here’s how the Foxconn debacle could upend Trump's political future

Here’s how the Foxconn debacle could upend Trump's political future
President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks during the Jobs Announcement event with Foxconn Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Election '20

President Donald Trump has been touting Foxconn as a prime example of manufacturing jobs returning to the Midwest. Along with former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Trump tried to lure the electronics giant to Wisconsin by offering billions of dollars in tax incentives—which, Trump insisted, would result in a wealth of new factory jobs in that Rust Belt state. But on Wednesday, January 30, Foxconn pulled a bait-and-switch and announced that instead, its Wisconsin facility will be mainly a development/research center.

In other words, the jobs created in Wisconsin by the electronics giant will be mostly white-collar tech jobs for Americans with college degrees—not the blue-collar jobs Trump and Walker promised in 2017 and 2018. And given Wisconsin’s history, the political implications could be huge.

Democrat Gordon Hintz, minority leader in the Wisconsin State Assembly, isn’t mincing words about Foxconn’s bait-and-switch. Hintz declared, “This news is devastating for the taxpayers of Wisconsin. We were promised manufacturing jobs.”

Even with all the corporate welfare Foxconn was offered, the blue-collar end of the deal fell through. Foxconn’s decision is a classic example of why so many blue-collar workers in the United States are contemptuous of giant corporations—a contempt that Trump played to when he campaigned in the Rust Belt in 2016. It worked: Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, all of which were states that President Barack Obama had carried in both 2008 and 2012 (and he narrowly lost to Clinton in Minnesota). Trump managed to convince many Rust Belt voters that Clinton was the slick corporatist and that he was the real friend of blue-collar workers.

Hintz complained, “And now, it appears Foxconn is living up to their failed track record in the U.S., leaving another state and community high and dry.”

Walker is trying to blame Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s new Democratic governor, for Foxconn’s decision, but his assertions fall flat and come across as sour grapes: Wisconsin residents voted Walker out of office and went with Evers instead, which is something Obama encouraged them to do when he campaigned on Evers’ behalf last year.

Politically, the Foxconn debacle is bad news for Trump, as it goes right to the heart of his promise to bring manufacturing jobs back to the Upper Midwest. And Wisconsin is not a state where Republicans want to be losing ground politically.

Wisconsin, historically, has been a blue state—so blue, in fact, that 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis carried it even though he lost so many other states to Republican George H.W. Bush that year. But blue states sometimes vote Republican, and the GOP gained a lot of ground in Wisconsin during the Obama years. Not only was the far-right Walker elected governor, but also, former House Speaker Paul Ryan (a disciple of Ayn Rand) was elected to Congress via Wisconsin and became a major figure in the Republican Party. The fact that Ryan achieved that much prominence via Wisconsin—not a deep red state like Utah, Mississippi, Alabama or Nebraska—was troubling for Democrats.

Although Obama won Wisconsin twice, Trump pulled off a major upset when he carried the state in 2016. The last time a Republican had carried Wisconsin in a presidential election was Ronald Reagan in 1984. That was yet another slap in the face that Wisconsin Democrats endured.

But when the 2018 midterms became largely a referendum on Trump’s presidency, Democrats regained some ground in Wisconsin. Obama rallied the Democratic troops in that state, Sen. Tammy Baldwin was reelected (defeating Republican Leah Vukmir by 11%), and Walker was voted out of office—which is something he is incredibly bitter about. Republicans, however, won five of Wisconsin’s eight House races in 2018, and the GOP has done plenty of gerrymandering all over the Midwest.

It remains to be seen who will win the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. But whoever it is, Wisconsin will be an important battleground politically next year; President Trump, assuming that nothing devastating comes out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, will no doubt be campaigning aggressively there. And in light of Wisconsin’s political importance, Foxconn’s announcement was the last thing Trump and other Republicans wanted to hear this week.

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