Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

Donald Trump Campaigns In Battleground States

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For Donald Trump to win the presidency, he would need lots of voters who believe in his populist anti-trade message. And he's hoping to find them in the Rust Belt - states like Ohio and Pennsylvania that have lost industrial jobs to other countries. NPR's Scott Detrow followed Trump to the shrinking steel town of Monessen, Pa.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: It's been less than a week since voters in the United Kingdom turned their backs on the free borders and international trade deals of the European Union, or as Trump put it in western Pennsylvania...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Our friends in Britain recently voted to take back control of their economy, politics and borders.

DETROW: Standing in front of piles of crushed aluminum just down the road from the flaring flames of a coke plant that turns coal into material for steel, Trump tried to ride that same wave of populism.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I want you to imagine how much better our future can be if we declare independence from the elites who led us from one financial and foreign policy disaster to another.

DETROW: The main foreign policy disaster in Trump's telling - a series of trade deals that have paved the way for an increasingly global economy, one where it's cheaper to manufacture steel in other countries instead of places like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Monessen offers the perfect setting for Trump. Its population has nearly been cut in half over the last two decades as manufacturing jobs have moved elsewhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: It is the consequence of a leadership class that worships globalism over Americanism.

DETROW: And Trump says presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is at the head of that group of leaders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton voted for virtually every trade agreement that has cost the work is of this country millions - millions of jobs.

DETROW: Trump singled out the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Clinton praised while she was secretary of state but came out against during the Democratic primary. In Pennsylvania, Trump called for a rejection of the TPP, a rewrite of the decades-old North American Free Trade Agreement and stiffer enforcement of existing trade rules.

His protectionist proposals drew real-time criticism from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, usually one of the Republican Party's top allies. In a tweet, the Chamber warned Trump's tariff proposals would cost the U.S. 3 and a half million jobs. But Trump says protectionist stances will bring back places like Monessen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Many of these areas have still never recovered and never will unless I become president.

DETROW: Monessen residents like Tony Ross are skeptical. Ross says it's near impossible to turn around decades-long manufacturing trends. The coke plant down the road reopened a couple years ago, but Ross doesn't buy a big turnaround.

TONY ROSS: So is that something - yes. Will it ever be what it once was - impossible - can't be. I hope I'm wrong.

DETROW: Ross worked in steel mills for more than 40 years. He guesses he was laid off at least 35 times. And with all that experience, he just doesn't buy a big turnaround. Still, Trump's populist message is hitting home with voters like Rosalyn Christopher.

ROSALYN CHRISTOPHER: Well, like I said, I think we need to give the jobs to the Americans, you know, and quit sending the stuff overseas. I mean, you know, I think we need to keep it here.

DETROW: Christopher is exactly the type of voter Trump needs to win Pennsylvania. She's a Democrat who voted for Barack Obama in 2008. But outside the event, she says she's tired of a slumping economy, and she thinks tighter borders and tougher trade deals will help.

CHRISTOPHER: Let's keep it here. Keep them out. I mean, not - you know, I'm respectful of the immigrants, but we need our jobs. You know, we need - we live here. We were born here. We live here.

DETROW: Pennsylvania has a million more registered Democrats than Republicans. So Trump has to hope his America-first message registers with a lot more people like Christopher. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Monessen, Pa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.