Winkleman voted for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time in his life in 2016, largely because of Donald Trump’s promise to bring back production jobs and invest $ 1 trillion to rebuild US infrastructure in Rust Belt states like Wisconsin. This year, Winkleman will vote for former Vice President Joe Biden, a decision sealed in part by Trump’s decision to pursue tax cuts – which Winkleman says benefits the rich first and foremost – over infrastructure investment. Winkleman said he and other members of the construction industry were “snookered”
“He gave this golden chariot of everything he wanted to do. I hoped my children and grandchildren would see what a prosperous country could look like, ”said Winkleman, stopping to point to the aluminum cladding he was fitting to a hotel sky bridge in downtown Milwaukee. “The road [Trump] spoke – it was as if he was supporting us. It’s been a complete farce ever since. ”
Trump can claim credit for pursuing and at least partially fulfilling many of his key promises of economic campaign in 2016, such as cutting taxes, cutting government regulations, and modernizing America’s international trade agreements. But on a key part of his financial promise – a massive infrastructure package – the president has much less to brag about on the campaign path.
After repeatedly proclaiming infrastructure during his 2016 campaign, Trump has for four years during his tenure failed to promote infrastructure legislation through Congress. Under his administration, federal investment in roads and bridges as part of the economy has been stagnant, while federal spending on water infrastructure projects has fallen to a 30-year low. Failing to boost federal dollar infrastructure projects, he has also proved unable to live up to his 2016 promises to update and upgrade parts of the United States, including roads, ports and airports.
The president’s unfulfilled promise of infrastructure highlights the interruption between his populist campaign announcement in 2016 and the results of four years in government in partnership with congressional Republicans that partially redefined his economic agenda. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has tried to take advantage of the case, repeatedly highlighting infrastructure on the campaign path in Midwestern states and promising swift action in the case if elected.
“We were told and promised Trump would ‘build America;’ it was supposed to be a lot of money in there, almost $ 1 trillion. He talked about it before he was elected, after he was elected, and nothing happened. They will not vote for him because of that, ”Kenneth E. Rigmaiden, president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, said of his members. “Workers can see that things are going slower. Our members are losing their jobs. Infrastructure is a big part of the business we tend to. ”
Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former top strategist, said in 2016 that Trump’s “economic nationalism” would transform the GOP from its alliance with the business lobby into one that supported extensive government action for civil servants. Numerous voters and political experts say these appeals to economic populism helped Trump win traditionally democratic white working-class voters in the Midwest.
Trump has modernized Republican economic policies in important ways, raising traditional conservative preferences, approving new U.S. trade deals, and pushing the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates. But his populist economic appeals are now being undermined by four years of power, with his rhetoric colliding with the realities of governance and the constraints imposed by the global economy.
Trump’s 2020 campaign has largely abandoned his calls from infrastructure four years ago. Trump brought up infrastructure as a critical national need during the 2016 presidential debate, his speech at the Republican National Conference, addresses throughout the Midwest, and his introductory speech. In campaign speeches last month in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, the president did not mention anything about repairing crumbling infrastructure or defining the country’s roads and bridges. Bannon, who boasted “the Conservatives are going crazy” over Trump’s embrace of infrastructure, has been out of the White House since 2017.
Asked about the issue at the Economic Club of New York on Wednesday, Trump accused congressional Democrats and said infrastructure legislation would be passed in his next government. He also cited the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border along the southern border. “We’re considering that infrastructure,” Trump said. The president has also often talked about his administration’s deregulatory agenda such as removing federal barriers to new construction projects, including highways.
Trump’s status among the white working class who were enthusiastic about his message of infrastructure has been eroded. In Pennsylvania, Trump leads Biden by 17 points among white voters without four-year college degrees, accounting for about half of the state’s voters, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll released last month. Trump won that group by more than 30 points in Pennsylvania in 2016.
The inability of Congress and the Trump administration to provide additional assistance to states and localities in the midst of coronavirus risks adding another drag on infrastructure investment and putting back work on highways, roads, sewers and other municipal projects that have already been delayed for years.
Mike Vandersteen, the mayor of the small northeastern Wisconsin town of Sheboygan, said he partially voted for Trump in 2016 because he heard the real estate mogul channel his frustration over the inadequacy of the country’s infrastructure. Sheboygan has struggled for years to fund local road repairs, but the city’s problems have intensified since 2016. The water level on Lake Michigan has risen to unexpected and historic heights over the past two years and has hit the 100-year-old water intake system at its mouth. of the city coastline. Vandersteen is afraid that the pipes risk being flooded or damaged, which damages the residents’ drinking water.
Vandersteen has written to both Biden and Trump’s campaigns asking them to oblige the federal government to fund $ 20 billion for cities along Lake Michigan to mitigate damage from rising coastlines. None of them have agreed to provide the help the towns along Lake Michigan say are needed.
“The president talked a lot about infrastructure, and there really hasn’t been any of that yet,” Vandersteen said, adding that he is still undecided on who he will support in the 2020 presidential election. “This could really be catastrophic.”
Even many of the president’s white, blue-necked supporters still hope he gets through with a deal. Don Iverson, 50, a lumberjack in western Wisconsin, has used County Route K and Pray Road for three decades to pull red pines, white pines and oaks for nearby sawmills. For the past five years, both Route K and Pray Road have been closed to Iverson’s trucks. New weight limits have also been introduced for a nearby bridge on Highway 54. That means Iverson will have to cut back on its shipments and add another 30 miles of driving each way to the sawmills.
Four of Jackson County’s nine loggers have ceased or gone out of service, Iverson said, in part because of their battle with the shabby city roads. Trucks are now forced to divert through the town of Black River Falls, which is both more expensive and more dangerous due to more traffic. Without federal support, half a dozen Wisconsin city officials say they have no option but to repair roads or bridges.
“It is a huge extra burden for our business. It never used to be that way, ”said Iverson, 50, as he gestured from his blue Dodge truck to the bumpy and uneven spots of blacktop used on the city road. “They really need to get it fixed. I have no idea how they expect us to do this. ”
The White House needed votes in Congress to approve an infrastructure plan. In the early days of his administration, the president and the GOP prioritized repealing the Affordable Care Act and implementing a major tax cut instead of an infrastructure plan. Three former senior officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions said there was never any serious discussion in the White House about putting infrastructure at the top of the GOP’s legislative list. “Paul Ryan and these guys had been waiting 30 years for this unique opportunity to cut taxes. They would not let it go, ”said one of them.
Trump aides worked for several months on an infrastructure package, eventually producing a package in 2018 with only $ 200 billion in new government spending that spanned 10 years, which relied heavily on leveraging additional private funding through “public-private partnerships.” ” Trump was ambivalent about the plan for private-public partnerships and even criticized it in front of the aides who developed it. Advisers felt that such a large package would not be acceptable to Congress Republicans as they and the White House struggled to agree on how to pay for an infrastructure bill.
In 2018, White House officials said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) was willing to reach a two-party infrastructure agreement, but negotiations collapsed amid party arguments over the persecution investigation. White House officials also did not believe Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) was willing to give the president a victory over infrastructure spending. Congress Democrats have said they were willing to reach an agreement as early as 2017 with Trump on infrastructure.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, you have every Democrat and every Republican ready to devote a significant amount of money to an infrastructure program ‘… I told Trump and his entire economic team in several meetings,’ We’ve done it all for you, ” Sen said. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), The placement Democrat in the Senate Finance Committee. “It will go down in history as a legislative error that Donald Trump did not come out with a major infrastructure effort.”
Peter Navarro, the most populist of the president’s senior economic advisers, said over the summer that the president supported a $ 1 trillion infrastructure package to help the United States recover from the pandemic. The message was ridiculed privately by other senior officials, and Navarro’s proposal never materialized.
The president and some of his senior advisers remain committed to the idea of infrastructure. Trump has continued the museum to advisers in recent weeks that he would do infrastructure in the second term.
DJ Gribbin, the president’s former adviser on infrastructure, left the administration in 2018 before the midterm elections, as he saw little momentum in getting a package through Congress. “One of the big headwinds that any federal infrastructure is running into is a lack of understanding that the federal government can’t just create new money,” Gribbin said.
Infrastructure eventually became a standing joke in the Capitol and even the White House, with West Wing staff joining jokes about “infrastructure week” as the issue was drowned out by accusations and other serial Trump controversies, according to two former senior officials.
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.