Trade and Manufacturing Dominate the Start of the First Presidential Debate

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Sep 27 2016 |
Photo via Wikimedia

Trump comes out swinging against trade deals, while Clinton focuses on broader economic messages.

Did you watch Monday Night Football instead of the first presidential debate? Did you get your fight fix from Monday Night Raw instead of Trump v. Clinton?

Have no fear. We’re here with a quick wrap-up, focused specifically on what Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said about manufacturing.

We’ll leave it to the political pundits to dish out the hot takes on who won the debate. Instead, we’re focusing on the manufacturing messages put forth by both candidates.

Trade Topped the Debate. The candidates went back-and-forth on trade issues right from the start.

In fact, Trump immediately went after trade in his opening remarks. His first lines after thanking moderator Lester Holt? “Our jobs are fleeing the country. They’re going to Mexico, they’re going to many other countries. You look at what China is doing to our country in terms of making our product. They are devaluing their currency and there’s nobody in our government to fight them.”

Clinton responded that “we are 5 percent of the world’s population. We have to trade with the other 95 percent. And we need to have smart, fair trade deals.” She then went on the offensive, arguing Trump’s plan will benefit the wealthy (like himself).

Trump quickly hit back, arguing that Clinton is only talking about trade now “because of the fact that we’ve created a movement,” attempting to tie her to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was signed by President George H.W. Bush and implemented under President Bill Clinton.

“When I was in the Senate, I had a number of trade deals that came before me and I held them all to the same test,” Clinton responded. “Will they create jobs in America and are they good for our national security? Some of them I voted for. The biggest one, a multinational one known as CAFTA, I voted against.”

Clinton pledged to create a special prosecutor to enforce trade laws “and hold people accountable.”

Trump also went after Clinton on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which President Obama is looking to get passed before he leaves office but Clinton has come out against.

“You called it the gold standard of trade deals. You said it’s the finest deal you’ve ever seen,” Trump said to Clinton. Her response: “Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts. The facts are I did say I hoped it would be a good deal but when it was negotiated, which I was not responsible for, I concluded it wasn’t.”

Infrastructure Also Came Up. While trade was certainly dominant in the discussion, the two candidates sprinkled in mentions for infrastructure investment throughout the night. Clinton noted infrastructure investment is a key component of her overall economic plan, while Trump borrowed a line from Vice President Joe Biden and compared U.S. airports like New York’s LaGuardia to being in “a third-world country.”

Trump Name-Dropped. As Trump talked about manufacturing, he kept mentioning a few key places: Ohio. Michigan. Pennsylvania. “You go to New England, Ohio, Pennsylvania, you go anywhere you want, Secretary Clinton, and you will see devastation where manufacturing is down 30, 40, sometimes 50 percent,” he said at one point.

This was clearly strategic, as these are the states where trade is likely to be a deciding factor in the election (AAM’s own polling during the primaries found this to be the case, and the primary results back that up).

Clinton on the Big Picture (and Trump’s Taxes). Aside from trade, Clinton pushed a few other ideas for manufacturing growth, including investing in advanced manufacturing, innovation and technology. She also pushed investment in clean energy technologies as a way to grow jobs.

And she went after Trump pretty hard, specifically on his tax plans (and refusal to release his own tax returns). But she arguably missed an opportunity to hit Trump for offshoring his products, particularly when Trump cited the new Trump International Hotel in D.C. as an example of his business prowess (as we’ve noted, much of the content in the new hotel is foreign-made).

Ford Calls Out Trump. Early in the night, Trump called out automaker Ford for moving small car production to Mexico. He also said that “thousands of jobs [are] leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio, they are all leaving.”

The problem? While Ford is indeed shifting some production to Mexico, no jobs are leaving, as the American workers effected will move to making larger vehicles like trucks and SUVs. Both Ford and the United Autoworkers corrected Trump, and fact checkers noticed the flub as well.

Looking for a full debate transcript? Here it is.