Republicans are testing whether they can widen the Democratic Party split exposed by the United Auto Workers strike as they try to reclaim the Senate and the White House.
The GOP sees the UAW strike as a potential lifeline in Michigan, where politically weakened Republicans are now plotting how to best seize a point of tension between the Democratic clean energy agenda and their pro-labor roots . President Joe Biden is pushing for more electric vehicles to meet his climate goals, but the workers who make components like batteries for those cars are often not unionized and earn less.
“What do you expect to happen when you push policies that will kill people’s jobs?” said Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.). “Putting people on climate change policies is absolutely ridiculous and we cannot stand it.”
Democrats have dominated in statewide races in recent cycles, with Biden winning in 2020 and Democrats recapturing the state legislature and governor’s mansion. The Republican Party is largely in shambles, and the national party hasn’t won a Senate seat in Michigan since 1994. But now they see a potential opening.
It’s too early to know how long the strike will last, but the strike has added further pressure on Biden to work with both sides to reach a deal before 150,000 union members in several other states take similar actions, resulting in major economic consequences.
In the coming days and weeks, Republican campaign and national party leaders will monitor the state of play and polls to determine how much to lean on attacks on the Democratic clean energy agenda, but also on the president, who has been accused of failing to do so. enough to avoid stalemate.
That said, this is hardly a clear or easy line of attack for Republicans, who do not explicitly support the union.
Former President Donald Trump is seeking the UAW’s endorsement for his White House bid in 2024. Trump, who is considering a trip to Michigan, according to the Detroit News, has urged the union to top the list of calls for “the complete and utter repeal of Joe Biden’s crazy electric vehicle mandate.” His former vice president, 2024 hopeful Mike Pence, struck a similar note Sunday.
“I also think that this green agenda using taxpayer dollars to push our auto economy toward electric vehicles is understandably causing great anxiety among UAW members,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Other Republicans followed suit, with a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee calling out Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin — Democrats’ front-runner for the state’s open Senate seat — for her vote Thursday that allows state-level limits or bans on gas-powered cars as a choice. of her her “party on Michigan”.
Among the Michigan Republican politicians who have come out in support of the strike are several members of the congressional delegation, a leading Senate candidate and another likely Senate contender who was himself a former UAW member.
“One thing the strike could do is highlight the conflict it is creating with the American working class, and that could prove very beneficial to Republicans,” said Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. “As Rahm Emanuel said: ‘I will never let a crisis go to waste.’ This could be that crisis that causes many working-class Americans to sit there and say, “We’re getting screwed by these left-wing policies that really aren’t very practical.”
The resounding response is emblematic of a shift in the Republican Party cultivated under Trump. In a GOP that has traditionally been less friendly to unions, many Republicans see the UAW strike as an opening to continue the work Trump began in 2016 to position their party for a showdown against these workers in 2024.
While Republicans can often clash with union leaders, Trump’s economic message in 2016 resonated with an unusually large number of rank-and-file union voters, helping him win over the industrial Midwest. And in turn, his support has strengthened Republicans in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
“I mean, take into consideration Macomb County, which is the home of Democrat Reagan. All these union workers in 2016 were dissatisfied with Democratic policies and put Trump in power. And if Democrats at the state level, but especially at the national level, don’t respond to this strike and don’t respond sufficiently to the demands of the UAW, it could come to bite them,” said Michigan Republican Jason Watts, who was removed from his position as a local party. treasurer in Michigan after publicly breaking with Trump in 2021.
Michigan will be an up-and-down battleground in the 2024 elections. With an open Senate seat, several competitive House seats, and a contested presidential contest, many ambitious Republicans have moved quickly to stand with auto workers .
“UAW workers get up early every morning and work hard to make a living – that’s the Michigan way. Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s coastal elites wake up and get on the couch where they will work from home,” said Rep. John James (R-Mich.), who won his seat in 2022 by fewer than 2,000 votes, in a statement.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s retirement gives Republicans a chance to win a Senate race for the first time since 1994. But Michigan, a state Trump won in 2016 but lost in 2020, is not among the GOP’s top targets.
“Auto workers are critical to our economy and, after years of concessions, deserve fair treatment,” said former Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who just launched a Senate campaign.
Another potential Senate contender for the Republican nomination is former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who worked at a Chrysler plant as his first job out of high school and also issued a statement criticizing the push Biden’s electric vehicles.
In an interview, Craig said the strike makes him more likely to run for the open Senate seat and that Republicans need to abandon their anti-union positions.
“Some understand, some don’t,” he said. “There are some old establishment Republicans who have always done things a certain way and who are resistant to change.”
“I will run for workers because I am a worker,” he said.
The issue does not mean that the Republicans are suddenly the Labor Party. The Chamber of Commerce, which has historically sided with Republicans, criticized the Biden administration’s policies as “unionization at all costs” for the strike.
Although Trump has made overtures to union members, the union’s leadership is still closely aligned with the Democratic Party, and Republicans notably do not discuss wages or the cost of living in their statements, issues of utmost importance to union members .
Watts said the party’s approach to Trump’s “Democratic unionists is borderline precarious.”
“You can’t push it too hard,” he said. “But we will always try to convert or bring those union members into the tent.”
Olivia Beavers and Ursula Perano contributed to this report.