Donald TrumpDonald Trump Trump at Lincoln Memorial: My voters 'not forgotten anymore' Overnight Tech: Trump's tech policy | Michelle Lee to stay at USPTO | Kerry aide goes to Snapchat Trump team wanted tanks, missile launchers in parade: report MORE’s presidential campaign is winning support from blue-collar workers, raising the possibility that he could steal some union votes away from Democrats in the general election.
Trump’s anti-free trade and border security arguments, coupled with his aggression toward China and other trading partners, are music to the ears of workers who believe globalization policies backed by both parties have shipped U.S. jobs overseas.
No Republican has won the union vote since Richard Nixon in 1972 — though Ronald Reagan twice came close — and if Trump secures the GOP nomination, he’s unlikely to receive the backing of the nation’s top labor leaders.
Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonJimmy Carter spotted en route to DC Obama assembles his post-presidential team One last look: 2016 polls actually got a lot right MORE has already racked up the lion’s share of union support. She has received coveted endorsements from nearly two dozen groups, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the teachers unions.
Still, some political strategists believe Trump could win over a significant portion of rank-and-file union members.
“The reality is some of these union workers will desert and go to Trump,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
Clinton has moved to the left on trade and other issues as she fights off Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDem senator: Trump nominees 'sad' The DC bubble is strangling the DNC Who really won the Cold War? Today's politics create doubt. MORE (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primary.
As secretary of State, Clinton pushed for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim countries negotiated by the Obama administration, going as far as to call it the “gold standard” in November 2012.
But her tune changed in October.
“As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it,” Clinton told “PBS NewsHour.” “I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.”
This may be enough to convince union leadership to rally around Clinton, but many blue-collar members remain skeptical.
That’s where Trump comes in.
“He could do very well with union members — better than Republicans have done in a long time,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.
Trump, whose Las Vegas hotel is accused of not allowing its workers to unionize, boasts that he has “tremendous support with unions.”
“The workers of this country are going to vote for me [because] I’m going to create jobs,” he said last month ahead of the New Hampshire primary.
Trump’s appeals to union members have gone beyond the Obama trade deal.
He has attacked the Ford Motor Company for sending jobs to Mexico. In his presidential announcement speech last June, Trump said he would impose a 35 percent tax on vehicles Ford imports from a controversial $2.5 billion plant it is building in Mexico.
“Let me give you the bad news: Every car, every truck and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we’re going to charge you a 35 percent tax,” Trump said at the time.
Despite his threat, Ford said in October that it intends to move forward with the Mexican plant.
“Ford has not spoken with Mr. Trump, nor have we made any changes to our plans,” the company said in a statement at the time, pointing out that most of the company’s investment is in the U.S.
Trump also put the Chinese government on notice over alleged currency manipulation in 2011, threatening a 25 percent tariff on all imports. He went as far as to say he would “love a trade war with China” in an interview with Fox News.
The billionaire’s anti-trade sentiment is helping him make a strong play for blue-collar union workers, who are concerned about losing their jobs to cheap labor abroad, said Michael Lotito, an employment and labor attorney.
“It’s about putting bread on the table,” Lotito said.
“People are frustrated,” he added. “They’ve been told, ‘Jobs are coming back. It will be like the good old days.’ But it’s not happening.”
“The unions haven’t been able to stop the trade deal; they haven’t stopped the exodus of jobs; they haven’t raised everyone’s pay to $15 an hour,” he added.
Not only are they concerned about their jobs being shipped overseas, but many are also facing competition from illegal immigrants, Bannon said.
Trump’s hostility toward immigrants plays into this fear, he added.
“Blue-collar workers see immigrants as competitors for jobs,” Bannon said. “An immigrant who’s just come into this country is much more likely to get one of their jobs than a professional job as an executive.”
These factors are helping Trump corner the market on blue-collar voters, something even his political opponents acknowledge.
Mary Kay Henry, the head of the SEIU, which endorsed Clinton, publicly speculated that Trump could be an attractive presidential candidate for union members.
“I think he’s touching this vein of the terrible anxiety that working-class people feel about their current status, but more importantly, how terrified they are for their kids not being able to do as well as they have, never mind doing better,” she told David Axelrod in a podcast earlier this year.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Surpassing Clinton’s stronghold with many of the nation’s top unions may be an insurmountable task for Trump. But even if he doesn’t win the union vote, some political strategists say he could sway more blue-collar workers than any other Republican presidential candidate in recent memory and make it a competitive race.
“That would be a real concern for Hillary Clinton, if he is able to grab even just an additional 2 or 3 percent of union households,” O’Connell said. “That could be the difference in Ohio.”