The last time Americans elected a new president, the U.S. auto industry was on the brink of collapse.
Eight years later, U.S. auto sales are at near record levels. The Detroit 3 automakers have hired tens of thousands of workers in the past few years.
Yet anger and resentment remains. About the government’s 2009 auto bailout. About jobs eliminated by the automakers and other industrial employers in Michigan and other “Rust Belt” states.
Hillary Clinton underestimated that anger.
The UAW underestimated that anger.
Ford Motor Co. underestimated that anger.
But Donald Trump took advantage of it.
He railed on Ford for moving car production to Mexico and spent considerable time in Michigan and Ohio in the days leading up to the election.
He won Ohio.
And he won Michigan -- barely -- the first time that Michigan went Republican since 1988.
NBC News noted that exit polls in Michigan showed Trump winning 61 percent of white voters without a college degree, up from 55 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012. Many of those are likely former auto workers whose lives were upended by the industry’s downturn -- or even current workers who aren’t able to enjoy the same quality of life that a factory job with General Motors or Ford used to allow.
The UAW believed an overwhelming majority of its members wouldn’t fall for Trump’s claims that he would reverse a flow of jobs to Mexico, despite the divisiveness in the rank-and-file that became obvious during contract ratification votes last year.
Ford barreled ahead with plans to build a new plant in Mexico, creating 2,800 jobs there instead of in Michigan. Executives failed to grasp the optics of that move until the backlash grew too large.
Trump won because he was able to harness the bitterness among working-class voters that had propelled his campaign all along.