Trump’s manufacturing boom has dried up. Here’s why that could cost him in Pa. | Wednesday Morning Coffee

October 30, 2019 7:15 am

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Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Look, we get it, when you’re the leader of a political party in Pennsylvania, there are some things you just have to say, no matter how boilerplate or fantastical: Like, “Fundraising is going great,” or “Political parties are still as relevant as ever,” or even, “Why, yes, we think we can beat Democrats to win all three statewide row offices.”

And, bless him, during an appearance before the Pennsylvania Press Club on Monday, state Republican Party Chairman Lawrence Tabas did his job and hit his marks. He slammed Democrats. He predicted Republican victories up and down the ballot in 2020, and confidently stated that the Dems would be undone by impeachment.

Now, some or all of that may yet come to pass, but one claim that Tabas made stuck with us.

“Our economy is in far better shape than it was four years ago,” Tabas, in a Trumpian display of braggadocio, told a crowd of business leaders, lobbyists, and journalists. “6.5 million jobs have been created under President Trump, 500,000 in the manufacturing industry, which was an industry that most people thought was done and dead in this country and never to be revived.”

It sounded great. It sounded confident. But it masks a deeper problem for Trump in a key state.

Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Lawrence Tabas, of Philadelphia, speaks Monday, 10/28/19 during the Pennsylvania Press Club’s monthly luncheon. (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Yes, it’s true that manufacturing did enjoy a growth spurt during the opening months of Trump’s presidency. But, as CNBC reports, thanks to Trump’s trade war, that advantage has pretty much evaporated.

And states, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, which were key to Trump’s 2016 victory, have borne the brunt of it.

As WITF-FM’s Katie Meyer reported in September, manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania have shrunk steadily.

In January, a total of 569,800 people worked in manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania, Meyer reported, citing federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That tally shrunk by 8,400 jobs by July, and continued to decrease into September, the data showed, to about 561,700 jobs.

That news had folks on both sides of the divide sweating the long-term consequences. David Taylor, of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, the industry’s trade group, acknowledged to Meyer, that the state was in a “tumultuous period.”

Rick Bloomingdale, of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, told Meyer that he was worried the White House didn’t have an end game. But one could be in sight. On Tuesday, the South China Morning Post reported that Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are set to meet in November to discuss a possible settlement.

President Donald Trump (Capital-Star file)

But even if there is a settlement, Trump’s nativist policies may have permanently scarred the U.S. manufacturing sector.

As Crain’s Chicago Business reported Tuesday, manufacturing jobs are now the smallest share of the economy in 72 years. Manufacturing comprised just 11 percent of GDP in the second quarter, the smallest share since 1947, and down from the previous quarter, Crain’s reported, citing U.S. Commerce Department data.  In comparison, real estate made up 13.4 percent of GDP;  12.8 percent for professional and business services and 12.3 percent for governments, Crain’s reported.

More from Crain’s:

“While manufacturing has added about half a million workers on the whole since Trump took office, states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that helped him win in 2016 are now losing factory jobs amid a persistent trade war with China and a weaker global economy.

“The administration’s protectionist policies have disturbed companies’ supply chains, stymied investment and slowed hiring. Tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese products helped tip the manufacturing sector into recession earlier this year. Some recent figures suggest stabilization but it remains fragile.”

And as one expert  in another Rust Belt state, Ohio, tells the Associated Press, the news is far from encouraging for Trumpthough it still may not necessarily be determinative.

““I don’t think that Ohio is just a lock in the Republican’s column, nor do I think that blue-collar voters are settled on who they’re likely to select,” Robert Alexander, a political scientist at Ohio Northern University, told the AP. “There is a lot of economic angst still in the state.”

The same will likely hold true in Pennsylvania. We know Trump’s base won’t desert him. But the blue collar Democrats and independents who gave him a try in 2016 are another matter entirely.

And that’s a challenge no amount of happy talk can change.

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Caruso hit a House Health Committee meeting that found anti-abortion Republicans successfully advancing a measure mandating the burial or cremation of fetal remains.

A Pa. House bill would scrap cross-filing for school board, county judge candidates.

LGBTQ advocates and their legislative allies rallied at the Capitol Tuesday for a long-sought nondiscrimination law.

On our Commentary Page, we have a pair of op-Eds looking at the election reform bill. In the first, the ACLU-PA explains why it came out in support of the legislation, and why Gov. Tom Wolf should sign it. In the second, opinion regular Fletcher McClellan says getting rid of straight-ticket voting may undo some of the other good done by the bill.

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1 p.m., Main Rotunda: Muslim Capitol Day.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.