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Trump to Woo Striking Union Members in Detroit, Skipping 2nd G.O.P. Debate

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Looking past the Republican primary, Donald Trump and his campaign are already gearing up for a possible rematch with President Biden.

Former President Donald Trump is planning to address an audience of more than 500 workers in Michigan next Wednesday instead of participating in the next Republican primary debate.Credit...Shuran Huang for The New York Times

Published Sept. 18, 2023Updated Sept. 27, 2023

Follow live as Republican presidential candidates debate for the second time.

Former President Donald J. Trump is planning to travel to Detroit on the day of the next Republican primary debate, according to two Trump advisers with knowledge of the plans, injecting himself into the labor dispute between striking autoworkers and the nation's leading auto manufacturers.

The trip, which will include a prime-time speech before current and former union members, is the second consecutive primary debate that Mr. Trump is skipping to instead hold his own counterprogramming. He sat for an interview with the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that posted online during the first G.O.P. presidential debate in August.

The decision to go to Michigan just days after the United Auto Workers went on strike shows the extent to which Mr. Trump wants to be seen as looking past his primary rivals — and the reality that both he and his political apparatus are already focused on the possibility of a rematch with President Biden.

So instead of attending the next G.O.P. debate — on Sept. 27 in California at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum — Mr. Trump intends to speak to over 500 workers, with his campaign planning to fill the room with plumbers, pipe-fitters, electricians, as well as autoworkers, according to one of the Trump advisers familiar with the planning. Mr. Trump has not directly addressed the wage demands of striking workers and has attacked the union leadership, but he has tried to more broadly cast himself on the side of autoworkers.

The campaign is also considering the possibility of having Mr. Trump make an appearance at the picket line, although the adviser said such a visit, which could involve difficult logistics given the former president's security protections, is unlikely.

The former president has long prided himself on his appeal to rank-and-file union workers — even as most union leaders have remained hostile to him, and as Mr. Biden has called himself the most pro-union president in history. In the 2016 campaign, an adviser to Mr. Trump, Paul Manafort, sought to establish a back channel with organized labor in Michigan and Wisconsin in the hopes the A.F.L.-C.I.O. would scale back its efforts to help the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. It did not appear to go anywhere, but underscored the areas that Mr. Trump considered vital in the general election.

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