MANCHESTER, N.H. — Speaking in the parking lot of a shuttered lighting plant, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took aim Thursday afternoon at recent US trade deals, arguing the country’s leaders have been manipulated by other nations through such pacts.
“They’re like grand chess masters. And we’re like checkers players, but bad ones,” Trump said of China’s trade relationship with the United States.
As Trump praised Mexican leaders for being “so much smarter, so much sharper,” a plane flew overhead, and he remarked: “That could be a Mexican plane up there. They’re getting ready to attack.”
Standing in direct sunlight, Trump spoke to a few dozen people at the closed event — part of his sustained effort to show a hard-line stance on US trade deals in parts of the country that his campaign believes have been negatively affected by them. The speech marked the last event on Trump’s two-day campaign jaunt through New England, and it followed a fund-raiser in Boston and a rally in Bangor, Maine.
As he did at his Maine rally, Trump criticized NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership while assailing his rival, Hillary Clinton, and her husband for supporting what he considered faulty trade deals. Bill Clinton signed off on NAFTA, and Hillary Clinton initially supported TPP negotiations as US secretary of state before she came out against the final version during the Democratic primaries.
The backdrop for Trump’s event was a former facility for Osram Sylvania, a lighting company and one of the biggest manufacturing employers in New Hampshire. The plant closed in 2014, laying off more than 100 employees.
Trump cited the building’s history, saying that after the company shuttered the Manchester location, jobs went to Mexico and China. He introduced Mike Boulanger, 51, who said he had worked at the Manchester facility for 29 years — and trained Mexican laborers to replace him.
According to Glen Gracia, a spokesman for Osram, some US production lines and equipment have been transferred to Mexico and China. But, Gracia wrote in an e-mail, the Manchester plant and others were closed “due to decreasing sales due to the technology shift to LED lighting, not any free trade agreements.”
Trump said he was in favor of “great deals” with countries but did not offer specifics. He also said that he did not intend for the United States to withdraw from NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, but he would use the country’s participation in those deals as leverage to renegotiate the agreement.
“There may be a point where we withdraw for two hours before we get a phone call,” Trump said.
When he took questions at the end of his speech, Trump promised to produce a “very highly sophisticated tax plan” in the coming weeks.
It was the first time Trump has visited New Hampshire since firing Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, who lives in the Granite State. Lewandowski attended the speech, and Stephen Stepanek, cochairman of Trump’s state campaign, said Trump’s interaction with his former top aide was cordial.
They even hugged, he said.Meg Bernhard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.