Trump drew attention while the Democratic National Convention was happening in Philadelphia.
While all Democratic eyes are on Philadelphia, Republicans were lining up a few hours north, in Scranton. On Wednesday afternoon, Republican nominee Donald Trump made an appearance with his running mate, Mike Pence. The 2,000 seat auditorium at Lackawanna College was full of proud Trump supporters, ready to hear about jobs, trade and immigration reform.
Two of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters in Congress, Pennsylvania Representatives Tom Marino and Lou Barletta warmed up the crowd.
Barletta, the former mayor of Hazleton, highlighted his 2006 efforts to push illegal immigrants out of his town. Despite an ACLU lawsuit that overturned the local ordinance, Barletta said, to great applause from the audience, that he would “double down” on that decision today if he could. He particularly likes Trump’s promise to build a wall between Mexico and the United States.
Marino said Trump would help bring back “the greatest steel producing industry in the world,” and make the United States the “largest coal producing country in the world.”
When Trump finally took the stage, he addressed all of those promises. He said the Rust Belt is struggling for one simple reason: bad trade deals made over the last 20 years.
“I’m a free trader, I believe in it,” he said. “But you need smart people to make great deals. We don’t have the right people. We are being ripped off by every single country we do business with when it comes to trade.”
He proposes renegotiating major trade deals, like NAFTA, and says that will bring jobs to the United States, and keep them here. Trump, at one point, pulled out a list of figures to demonstrate the effect that NAFTA has had on jobs in Pennsylvania.
“You’ve lost half of your businesses,” he said. As an example, “I look at Scranton. Pennsylvania has lost one in three manufacturing jobs.”
In Pennsylvania, many manufacturing jobs have been lost to other countries — but many have been lost to other states, as well. Economists say trade agreements are just one of many culprits for the decline of industry in the Rust Belt.
But it’s an argument that plays well in Pennsylvania. He said his message was for a specific group of people, which he called “the forgotten man and women.”
“We have forgotten men and women who work hard, who are making less money than they made 18 years ago, who are working much harder than they worked 18 years ago.”
To that group, he promised better deals, better jobs and a better future. Under a Trump presidency, he said, they, and the Rust Belt they represent, would no longer be forgotten.