WARREN, Mich. — Hillary Clinton on Thursday sought to undermine the central premise of Republican Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — that he would bring relief to economically beleaguered Americans — by casting him as a fraud and claiming that his proposals would help “only millionaires like himself.”
Clinton used what was nominally described as an economic speech to press her case that Trump’s proposals and actions run counter to his campaign promises to lift workers and energize the economy.
On point after point, including policy details, personal temperament and the ability to deliver change, the Democratic nominee painted herself as a fighter and her rival as a misleading peddler of pessimism who isn’t really “on the side of the little guy.”
The speech served as a rebuttal to Trump’s economic address in Detroit on Monday, but it contained few new details about Clinton’s proposals.
Instead, Clinton made a systematic attempt to disqualify Trump in the eyes of moderate Republicans, blue-collar workers and other up-for-grabs voter blocs. She offered outlines of her plans in several areas, including job creation and help for working families, and used her proposals to punctuate attack lines against Trump.
To the extent that she ventured into the weeds of policy, it was to underscore her argument that she is serious about helping the middle class, where Trump is not. Mostly, she continued her steady effort to define this year’s election as a referendum on Trump’s fitness for the job.
“Donald Trump wants America to work for him and his friends, at the expense of everyone else,” Clinton said. “He’s offered no credible plans to address what working families are up against today.”
Appearing in a largely blue-collar area near Detroit, Clinton took direct aim at Trump’s appeal in Rust Belt states that have traditionally voted Democratic, in part based on his promise to curb trade deals and immigration.
She chided the businessman’s companies for making clothing and other products overseas and introduced a new website that lists companies making similar products in the United States.
She also zeroed in on a Trump proposal to significantly reduce taxes on “pass-through” businesses, which do not pay corporate income taxes but whose owners are taxed at individual rates on their share of profits.
Such entities are the most common structure for small businesses — which would benefit from Trump’s plan — but they also are heavily utilized by the scores of companies that make up the Trump Organization. Clinton argued that her rival is attempting to give himself “a back-door tax cut” and characterized his proposal as the “Trump Loophole.”
“It would allow him to pay less than half the current tax rate on income from many of his companies,” she said. “He’d pay a lower rate than millions of middle-class families.”
Clinton also took aim at a provision in Trump’s economic plan that would repeal the estate tax, another measure she says would benefit his family personally. Earlier this week in Florida, Clinton branded that provision as Trump’s “friends-and-families discount.”
Overall, Clinton argued that Trump’s economic plan is weighted too heavily toward helping the wealthy and corporations and that it would “balloon the national debt.” She drew laughter and applause for accusing him of offering an “even more extreme version of the failed theory of trickle-down economics, with the addition of his own unique Trumpian spin — outlandish ideas that even many Republicans reject.”
Clinton also highlighted her plans to invest in jobs and infrastructure in a manner calculated to appeal to white working-class voters, who have been Trump’s strongest constituency, among others.
“I want to invest in our veterans, our kids, and our police officers and so much more,” she said. “You can then draw your conclusions about our values.”
Clinton touted previously released proposals to make public college tuition-free for families that earn up to $125,000 a year, prod companies to increase profit-sharing opportunities, and raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
She attacked Trump on his signature economic issue, a promise to renegotiate the terms of trade with China and other countries. She acknowledged that past trade deals had often been sold with “rosy scenarios,” and she repeated her opposition to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership with several Pacific Rim countries, vowing: “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”
But Clinton offered a qualified defense of globalization, saying it would cost more jobs for the United States to withdraw from an increasingly interconnected world economy. She promised to stand up to China and other countries that violate international trade regulations, but she criticized Trump’s approach, which includes threats of tariffs against China, Mexico and other trading partners.
“He may talk a big game on trade, but his approach is based on fear, not strength,” she said, adding a reference moments later to Olympic athletes: “If Team USA was as fearful as Trump, Michael Phelps and Simone Biles would be cowering in the locker room. Instead, they’re winning gold medals. America isn’t afraid to compete.”
Trump’s campaign responded to the speech with a flurry of press releases highlighting Clinton’s support for some past trade deals and claiming that she would “100% enact the TPP if she gets the chance.” One release was headlined with a peculiar pejorative, coming from a Republican nominee, calling Clinton a “trickle-down globalist.”
The site of Clinton’s speech, at a Macomb County company that expanded its auto supply business into the defense and aerospace industries, was selected with electoral politics in mind. The jurisdiction has sided with the Democratic nominee four times and the Republican nominee four times during the past eight presidential elections. It is key to Trump’s chance of carrying Michigan in November.
Clinton praised the company that hosted her for being “on the front lines of what we hope will be a true manufacturing renaissance.”
Aides said Clinton’s speech was not designed to announce new initiatives but to provide a sharp contrast between the agendas of the two presidential contenders. Clinton delivered an address in June in North Carolina, another battleground state, where she laid out her economic agenda heading into the fall election.
In a speech to the National Association of Home Builders in Florida on Wednesday ahead of Clinton’s address, Trump promised a “massive cut in taxes” and “a massive cut in regulations,” echoing proposals in his speech Monday.
In the speech, Trump proposed a new set of individual income tax rates higher than he previously suggested, but he also promised to bring rates lower than they were even during the George W. Bush administration. He also promised to boost federal infrastructure spending and said that would allow working families to deduct child-care costs from their federal income taxes.
Clinton was greeted here Thursday at Futuramic Tool & Engineering by a couple of dozen Trump supporters marching outside the manufacturing facility carrying signs, including one that read, “Hillary for Prison.”
Before her speech, Clinton toured the manufacturing site here. After focusing for about half a century on supplying the automotive industry, the company began to diversify around 2000, officials say; about 95 percent of Futuramic’s work now is for the aerospace industry.
Clinton also highlighted the company’s long-standing partnership with a community college here to help train students in the fields of technology and manufacturing through an apprenticeship program — a model she has touted on the campaign trail.
“Here’s something neither party talks about enough: A four-year degree shouldn’t be the only path to a good job,” Clinton said in her speech. “You should be able to learn a skill, practice a trade, and make a good living doing it.”
Clinton arrived in Michigan on Wednesday night and attended a fundraiser in Birmingham, a suburb of Detroit. Donors paid $25,000 each to attend, according to a Clinton aide. They were entertained by soul singer Aretha Franklin.
Proceeds were to benefit the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint venture of the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and Democratic state parties.