Donald Trump issued a dramatic warning Wednesday afternoon to court voters concerned about the Appalachian coal industry.
Many coal miners were in attendance during Trump’s speech at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va. The Republican presidential candidate urged those in the mining community to turn out to vote on Nov. 8 even if they are frustrated with the system because, he said, the fate of their industry hangs in the balance.
“It is the last shot for the miners. That I know,” Trump said. “And I’m not like a neutral for the miners. I’m not like, ‘Oh, well he’ll be all right.’ Hillary will be a horror show, and I’m going to be an unbelievable positive. But this is the last shot. The mines will be gone. The mines will be gone if she gets elected.”
According to Trump, the election of Democrat Hillary Clinton would be the death knell for the mining industry.
“You look at the bad judgment and now we’re going to put her in charge of our country — we won’t have a country left. So I just ask the people of Virginia and the people in this room, and in particular because we’re in such a mining area, give it one more chance. I know you’re discouraged. Give it one more chance.”
Throughout the speech, Trump presented himself as a champion of the fossil fuel industry. He contrasted himself with Clinton, who was endorsed early in the Democratic primary by the environmentalist group League of Conservation Voters.
The Manhattan billionaire referenced the moment in which Clinton claimed her policies would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” as the country transitioned toward renewable energy. She later said she misspoke.
“I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context for what I meant, because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time,” Clinton clarified, according to PolitiFact.
“It was a misstatement because what I was saying is the way things are going now, they will continue to lose jobs. It didn’t mean that we were going to do it. What I said is that is going to happen unless we take action to help and prevent it,” she continued.
Before the speech, World War II veteran Emory Altizer, 95, who has been a coal miner for 68 years, presented Trump with a flame safety lamp to demonstrate the industry’s support for his economic plan and opposition to President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency’s energy initiatives.
When he wasn’t hammering home common themes in his stump speeches — Clinton’s private email server, securing the U.S.-Mexico border, etc. — Trump spent a good deal of time empathizing with the plight of coal miners and other blue-collar workers who have fallen on hard times in recent years.
He recalled a conversation he had with several coal miners in which he asked whether the economic difficulties of their profession might ever compel them to take up a different career path. They told him that they did not want to do anything else, he said.
Trump said he could relate to the desire of coal miners to carry on a family tradition of working in a particular trade because he did just that, albeit in real estate.
“I understood this very well because my father was in real estate, I went into real estate, it was sort of [you] do that. They said, ‘Mr. Trump, we love mining. We don’t want to do anything else. We love mining.’ I so understood that. It was so incredible. And they all said it like at the same time. They want to be miners. But their jobs have been taken away and we’re going to bring them back,” Trump said to applause.
Coal miners holding up black and yellow signs that read “Trump digs coal” were seated behind Trump on stage, which was flanked by the American and Virginia flags.
“NAFTA has been a disaster. It’s been a disaster not just for Virginia but for virtually every state,” Trump said of the North American Free Trade Agreement. “Upstate New York, it looks like a war zone. That’s why I won, so much, and I got the upstate vote in numbers that nobody’s seen before.”
Trump, who easily won his home state’s primary, painted a picture of urban decay that would resonate with the coal miners: beautiful abandoned factories that had once been the lifeblood of small towns throughout the Northeast.
“Upstate New York, you go to New England you see the factories, these beautiful old factories that you see, they were once thriving, thousands and thousands of people working,” Trump said. “And those people now are doing part-time jobs. They’re working two jobs. They’re making less money than they made 18 years ago.”