TO: Interested Democrats and Friends of Tremont Public Advisors
FROM: Matt Hennessy, Managing Director TPA
RE: The Video that Could Make Trump President
"I'll tell you want I would go right now to Carrier and say I would work awfully hard, you’re going to make air conditioners right now in Mexico - you're going to get all of these 1,400 people that are being laid off - they were crying - it was a very sad situation,” – Donald Trump
Since mid-February, Republican candidate for President Donald Trump has repeatedly raised the issue of United Technologies Corporation (UTC) (UTX) subsidiary Carrier Corporation’s decision to lay-off 1,400 workers at plants in Indiana and move the jobs to Mexico. The video that sparked Trump’s comments about Carrier in debates and at his victory press conference on Super Tuesday night, shows Carrier executive Chris Nelson explaining to incredulous workers that the transfer of jobs was simply “a business decision” and did not reflect negatively on the quality of their work.
Trump’s interest in the Carrier layoffs story does not stem from genuine concern about the plight of workers, but from its usefulness in reinforcing his narrative that America is in decline and that foreign countries such as Mexico and China are outwitting our leaders at every turn. Though Trump’s campaign has not expanded it critique of the decision of Carrier to move jobs to Mexico, additional, public facts could transform a vaguely xenophobic throw-away line into a powerful narrative of how working class Americans are having their livelihood threatened to benefit multi-national corporations and foreign countries.
Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies Corporation, based in Farmington, Connecticut generated a net income last year of $7.61 Billion. Carrier is in UTC’s profitable Climate Controls & Security Division which generates considerable revenue from overseas business operations including in China. In the course of its business dealings in China, UTC illegally transferred military technology that allowed China to develop it first modern attack helicopter. As a result, in 2012 UTC pled guilty in federal court to violating the Arms Control Export Act and paid more than $75 million in fines.
Potential General Election Impact in Ohio and Pennsylvania
In Trump’s view, a profitable company using a “poorly” negotiated trade deal to give American jobs to Mexicans, while also selling military technology to strengthen China’s armed forces, validates everything he has been saying. In his narrative, the “incompetent” and “weak” American government is once again being outwitted by the Mexicans and Chinese. For working class Americans the results of that betrayal are seen in the faces and cries of the Carrier workers captured on YouTube. This message resonates with working class voters, and should be of tremendous concern to Democrats concerned about winning Ohio and Pennsylvania in November.
Super Tuesday Exit polls show that Trump’s supporters like him because he “tells it like it is” and because they want someone outside the political establishment. Polls also showed Trump out-performed among angry voters with a high school education who were concerned about the economy. For white working class voters (union and non-union) worried about their economic future in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Trump’s message resonates.
Trump presently leads Clinton in Ohio by two points and older head to head polling in Pennsylvania shows the same. However, a recent door to door canvas by AFL-CIO affiliated Working America of 1,689 likely voters with household incomes of $75,000 or less in working-class neighborhoods outside Cleveland and Pittsburgh showed that Trump held a considerable lead in the household visited. Among the survey findings:
· Donald Trump was favored by more than a third of those who chose a candidate (38%), overwhelming all other Republican candidates (27% combined). Nearly the same number chose one of two Democratic candidates, Clinton (22%) or Sanders (12%).
· While most of Trump’s support comes from the staunch Republican base, 1 in 4 Democrats who chose a candidate showed a preference for Trump.
· Personality was far more important than issues among Trump supporters. Nearly half of voters who identified themselves as supporters liked him because “he speaks his mind.”
· A third of Trump supporters said they would be unwilling to vote for anyone else if Trump is not the nominee.
· Party loyalty did not determine candidate choice as much as expected. Of Trump partisans, 58% said they would support him even if he runs as an independent. Additionally, a small number of Trump supporters were considering a Democrat if Trump doesn’t end up on the ballot.
· Good jobs/the economy remain the top issues among voters, at 27%, with homeland security and terrorism next (14%) and health care as the third most frequently cited priority (10%).
Economic worry seems to be the driver for white working class voters who feel powerless about a political and economic system that seems to be stacked against them. Trump’s outsider status and penchant for “telling it like it is” helps connect him with those voters
For Democrats: What To Do?
Don’t be afraid to directly address the Carrier issue with greater passion than Trump. The Sanders camp has spoken out on the job loss at Carrier, while the Clinton camp reaction has been muted. The Clinton camp needs to be full-throated in its opposition to these jobs moving to Mexico regardless of incidental connections to UTC in the past.
Trump has dominated the narrative on the fears of working class voters about economic uncertainty. Democrats need to clearly acknowledge those fears as valid, and credibly explain how Democratic policies will generate jobs and economic growth for working class neighborhoods not only in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but also across the country.
Don’t dismiss the Trump constituency. Though it is unlikely that the Democratic nominee for President will garner much support from Trump backers, there is an important subset of his voters that could be convinced to vote for the Democrat. This group of voters could play an important role in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.