Trump’s pitch for autoworker votes in car heartland is short on autoworkers

<span>Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

As the rain came down a small crowd was still left outside Drake Enterprises, a non-union automotive manufacturing plant in Clinton Township, Michigan, on Wednesday night waiting for former president Donald Trump.

“We want to take our country back! Let Biden sleep in his hospital bed! We want guns! We want Trump!” shouted one of the 50 or so people still waiting as Trump’s motorcade pulled away from the sodden event. He declined to give his name.

Related: Trump urges UAW to endorse him in speech at non-union car parts maker

Trump spoke at the plant a day after President Joe Biden had joined a picket line in nearby Wayne in support of the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike against Detroit’s big three auto companies.

Before the speech began, hundreds of Trump supporters lined the street in an industrial park, erupting in cheers as the former president’s motorcade pulled in.

The gathering had all the festive, and sometimes chaotically surreal, energy that is often part of Trump rallies. Supporters banged on drums, breaking to yell “Freedom!” and drawing loud cheers from up and down the street. Many were draped in Trump 2024 flags. Another flag showed Trump as a Rambo-like figure holding a grenade launcher. Passing traffic blared their horns in support.

Inside the event, Trump gave a rambling speech for more than an hour. Union workers should support him because electric cars would take their jobs, said Trump. China and other foreign powers were the real enemy, not low wages or incompetent bosses. “Your current negotiations don’t mean as much as you think,” said Trump.

By Trump standards, the crowd was small but there was no doubting their enthusiasm and they did not seem to mind the twisting word salad of the speech as it touched on trans rights, the Taliban, grudges against Hillary Clinton and Trump’s current 2024 Republican opponents.

Clinton Township is in Macomb county, a crucial battleground in 2024’s election, and the one thing that Trump and Biden have in common is a recognition that voters here are crucially important in the race for the White House.

Unsurprisingly given the nature of the event, the crowd was firmly behind Trump.

Ed Sands, a 73-year-old retired auto supplier employee, said Trump is “the only one who gives a shit about working people.

“Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Obama – they were all terrible for Macomb county, jobs went to China, south, and you see all these people here today because Trump will bring them back,” Sands added.

The former US president’s return to office is all but guaranteed, Sands said. “Look around you, look at these people. Do you think he is going to lose? Do you?”

Christopher Demopolis, 35, who works in heating and cooling, echoed that sentiment, and said his UAW base will play a role. “I don’t see why he won’t win Michigan next time around – a lot of this is going to determine it,” he said, motioning to the lively crowd. “Trump supports the workers, Biden supports the leaders.”

Though the focus of Trump’s event was on auto unions, it was unclear how many union members were there. Several of those who spoke with the Guardian said they were small business owners, or work for small businesses, but their numbers in this swing county are high.

“That’s the thing – there are people who are union, but there’s also a whole bunch of us who are not and who work for small businesses, and we are more pro-Trump,” said Laura, who lives in nearby Mount Clemens, she declined to give her last name.

Trump’s speech came a day after a New York judge ruled that the former president’s business fortune was built on rampant fraud and blatant lies.

None of that seemed to faze his supporters. “I don’t care if he didn’t pay taxes,” said a supporter who declined to give his name. “He shouldn’t even have to pay taxes!”