Former President Donald Trump will skip the second Republican presidential primary debate in California next week and instead will travel to Detroit to deliver a speech to an audience that will include current and former union members, according to a source familiar with his plans.
His prime-time remarks will serve as counterprogramming to the September 27 debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
The news comes amid the ongoing United Auto Workers strike, which began last week after the union and the nation’s three largest automakers failed to reach a deal to avert it.
“The auto workers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump,” the former president told NBC News in an interview last week.
UAW President Shawn Fain pushed back on the news of Trump’s upcoming speech.
“Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers,” Fain said in an emailed statement. “We can’t keep electing billionaires and millionaires that don’t have any understanding what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to get by and expecting them to solve the problems of the working class.”
Trump’s visit to the swing state of Michigan signals a look ahead to the general election. Amid concerns about his electability beyond the GOP primary, his team is eager to pick off voters anywhere they perceive as potentially vulnerable for President Joe Biden.
The Trump campaign on Tuesday started running a radio ad in Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, aimed at appealing to auto workers amid the ongoing strike, according to a Trump campaign spokesperson. The ad tries to cast Trump as supportive of auto workers but doesn’t explicitly mention the strike. The ad and will run on sports and rock-themed radio stations in Detroit and Toledo, according to the spokesperson.
Biden’s reelection campaign, criticizing what it deemed a “self-serving photo op,” said Monday night that Trump was going to Michigan to “pretend he didn’t spend his entire failed presidency selling (Michigan workers) out at every turn.”
“Instead of standing with workers, Trump cut taxes for the super-wealthy while auto companies shuttered their doors and shipped American jobs overseas,” said spokesperson Ammar Moussa, who also noted that Trump lost Michigan to Biden in 2020.
Details of Trump’s Detroit trip and the radio ad were first reported by The New York Times.
Trump, who has maintained a large lead in national and early-state primary polls, also skipped the first GOP primary debate in Milwaukee last month. The third debate is scheduled to take place in Miami in November. The former president told former Fox News host Megyn Kelly last week that while he would participate in potential general election debates with Biden, he is unlikely to debate his GOP rivals.
“I don’t see it,” Trump said. “Why would I do it?”
Like the first debate, Republican candidates must meet certain donor and polling thresholds to make the Simi Valley debate stage.
They will need at least 3% in two national polls or in one national poll and two polls from separate early-voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada. Qualifying polls must be conducted on or after August 1 and meet several requirements, including that they’ve surveyed at least 800 “registered likely Republican voters” and are not conducted by a company affiliated with a candidate.
Besides Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott have registered sufficient polling support so far to qualify for the second debate, according to CNN’s count.
Candidates must also have a minimum of 50,000 unique donors, with at least 200 donors in 20 states or territories. Debate participants will also need to sign a pledge committing to supporting the eventual Republican nominee.
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Ethan Cohen, Eric Bradner, David Wright and Ariel Edwards-Levy contributed to this report.