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Former US President and 2024 Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at the CWA (Concerned Women for America) Summit 2023 in Washington, DC, on September 15, 2023. 

Mandel Ngan | Afp | Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump is planning to visit Detroit next week to speak with current and former union members instead of attending the Republican primary debate, his campaign told CNBC on Monday.

A campaign spokesman confirmed reporting in The New York Times that Trump, the clear front-runner in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, intends to counterprogram the second primary debate as his rivals compete to catch up to him.

The former president’s travel plans emerged just days after thousands of United Auto Workers members went on strike at three major plants after the union and Detroit carmakers failed to reach a deal.

A campaign source noted that Trump wants to speak to a crowd of more than 500 current and former union members that will include not only autoworkers but also plumbers, pipefitters and electricians.

But the autoworkers’ union itself reacted sharply to the news of Trump’s latest campaign strategy.

“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,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a statement shared with CNBC.

“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,” Fain’s statement said.

Fain has previously said that a second Trump term in the White House would be a “disaster.”

Trump’s anticipated absence at the upcoming debate, set for Sept. 27 at the Reagan Library in California, did not come as a major surprise. He skipped the first primary debate last month, opting instead to sit for a pre-taped interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that aired as the debate kicked off.

The plan to undermine the second debate shows Trump once again shrugging off his GOP rivals, and instead favoring the idea of positioning himself for a general election rematch against incumbent President Joe Biden, a vocal champion of U.S. labor unions.

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In an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that aired Sunday, Trump accused the UAW’s leadership of failing its members even as he urged the union to endorse him.

“The autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump,” Trump told NBC’s Kristen Welker.

Trump’s public statements about the strike have been largely focused on electric vehicles, a Biden administration priority that Trump claims will destroy the U.S. auto industry and empower China.

While the autoworkers’ main demands are to obtain more — and more equitable — compensation, Trump’s attempt to place EVs at the center of the dispute demonstrates how the push to transition away from gas-powered cars has become a political wedge issue.

Trump’s biggest Republican rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has vetoed bipartisan pro-EV legislation in his state and vowed in a recent op-ed to “save the American automobile.”

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