CLEVELAND — Forced to play defense in states he led comfortably months ago, President Donald Trump set his sights on Ohio on Thursday in an attempt to reframe the centerpiece of his reelection pitch.
As Trump greeted supporters upon his arrival in Cleveland, he lashed out at Democratic challenger Joe Biden, saying the stock market’s rebound from its March lows would be erased if Biden won in November.
“I mean, look, we’re running against radical left ideology,” Trump said, accusing Biden of being captive to that wing of his party.
Trump also plans to promote the economic prosperity that much of the nation enjoyed before the coronavirus pandemic and try to make the case that he is best suited to rebuild a crippled economy. But his handling of the outbreak has weakened his bid for a second term, causing Trump to spend time and resources in a state he won easily in 2016 but now could be in danger of slipping away.
The virus already altered the trip even before Trump landed, with word that GOP Gov. Mike DeWine had tested positive for the coronavirus. DeWine had planned to meet with Trump and join the president on a visit to the Whirlpool Corp. plant in northwest Ohio. DeWine’s office said the 73-year-old governor had no symptoms and was returning to Columbus.
For Trump, the Ohio trip was kicking off a long weekend of fundraising that comes as Biden, has chipped away at Trump’s financial advantage as the race enters its final three months.
And while the White House said Trump was focusing on his economic agenda in Ohio, the trip also gave him another opportunity to try to portray Biden as an extremist on issues from religion and energy to the Second Amendment. “I don’t think he’s going to do too well in Ohio,” the president said.
The virus upended Trump’s plan to run on the back of a strong economy, and Biden has charged that the president has pushed to reopen states too soon in hopes of jump-starting the markets and lifting his standing in the polls. But several states have had to slow down the pace of their reopening, and officials are warily watching a rise in coronavirus cases in the Midwest, including Ohio.
When Trump swept through the region in 2016, his economic populism argument was one of the factors that led him to narrowly capture Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He handily won Ohio, which had been a swing state for decades, by eight percentage points.
He promised a manufacturing renaissance, but that has failed to materialize. Manufacturers added jobs during the first two years of his presidency, but the gains effectively stalled in 2019 as industrial Midwestern states such as Michigan and Ohio began to shed factory workers.
The import taxes charged by his administration hampered manufacturing companies’ supply lines and created uncertainty. The economy had roughly 12.85 million factory jobs at the start of the election year, compared with the 14 million before the 2008 financial crisis, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The pandemic only compounded the pain. Manufacturers cut 1.36 million jobs between February and April as the economy went on lockdown. Hiring in May and June has pointed to a slight recovery. But even if factories add 267,500 jobs expected in the July employment report being released Friday, the sector would still have 500,000 fewer jobs than it did before the outbreak.
Trump now finds himself severely tested in battleground states, and campaign aides have privately all but written off Michigan. The president now has been forced to spend time in states that his campaign once thought he had locked up. The Ohio trip comes a week after he visited once deeply Republican Texas.
“We’re going to win Ohio by even more this time,” Trump claimed.
In Ohio, Trump was expected to sign an executive order requiring that the federal government purchase certain drugs from U.S. manufacturers rather than from foreign companies. The order would instruct the government to develop a list of “essential” medicines and then buy them and other medical supplies solely from U.S. manufacturers.
The administration has long looked to reduce U.S. dependency on drugs made overseas, particularly in China. The new order would invoke the Defense Production Act to procure essential medicines and other equipment from the United States, but would not stipulate precisely which drugs would fall under the requirements.
Trump has said he wants to prepare for future pandemics by replenishing the national stockpile and bringing manufacturing of critical supplies and equipment back to the U.S. His critics have suggested that his administration was woefully unprepared for coronavirus, which has killed more than 157,000 Americans, and that Trump has faltered in mobilizing the nation’s resources to battle the virus.
After his trip to Ohio, Trump plans a long weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with a high-dollar fundraiser in the Hamptons on New York’s Long Island and a second near the Jersey shore.
The fundraising spree comes a day after Trump announced that he raised $165 million for his reelection effort in the month of July, surpassing what Biden raised during the same period.
But a massive cash-on-hand advantage that once gave the Republican a significant competitive edge has largely been closed. Biden and the Democratic Party are reporting that they are just $6 million shy of the $300 million that the president and the Republican National Committee have banked.
The money puts the two on a virtually even footing that will allow both to amply advertise, fund get-out-the-vote efforts and mobilize supporters, even if it has to be done virtually in many instances due to the coronavirus.