On Monday, General Motors (GM) announced that it will close five plants in North America and cut thousands of jobs, marking one of the most serious economic challenges to the Trump presidency yet.
Until now, it appeared President Donald Trump had done a good job of energizing the American economy, specifically when it came to jobs. Legitimately or not, he has been praised for record low unemployment -- now at 3.7%, a 49-year low. While liberal critics argue that he is merely the beneficiary of the Obama administration's smart economic policies, it is hard to definitively say what the driver is.
What we do know is this: Had unemployment increased while Trump was in the White House, he would have been blamed. So, it seems only fair to give him some credit for low unemployment numbers now.
But that credit may not sustain him for long. While GM has said that an evolving marketplace and changing consumer demands are the chief reasons for the actions it took, the Trump administration's onerous steel tariffs are also an important contributing factor. It's more expensive to buy steel parts for cars than it was before he took office.
That Trump's economic policies are in any way causing manufacturing plants to close and jobs to be eliminated could be a stake in the heart of the Trump presidential experiment. In response, on Tuesday, the President, clearly concerned by GM's announcement, threatened to cut the car company's subsidies.
Because Trump was allegedly "good for the economy," many Republicans were willing to forgive his sometimes-boorish behavior -- both domestically and internationally. They became "yes, buts" in their defense of a president many still feel is unworthy of an office occupied by the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
But that just became a tougher pill to swallow, as thousands of American autoworkers, many who voted for Trump in 2016 -- believing he would protect their jobs -- now face a stark reality just weeks before the holidays.
And it's a more powerful reality than the one Trump critics had been betting on prior to the GM announcement. Many Democrats, and perhaps even a few Republicans, have looked to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the Trump campaign's potential dealings with Russia as an engine to drive Trump from office.
At this point, there is no way to know whether that will happen. Whatever Mueller presents (presuming the Trump-controlled Department of Justice tells us) will be believed by some, disbelieved by others and debated ad nauseam. Unless there is irrefutable evidence of Trump himself committing a crime, which even his some of sharpest critics admit is unlikely, the Mueller report alone will not bring Trump down.
That's not a bad thing, per se. If the President did not violate the law, he should not be removed from office -- regardless of how some may feel about him.
But it may not take a Mueller investigation to sway the public anymore. The one thing Trump had going for him was a strong economy and low unemployment, but now those jobs numbers may be in jeopardy.
GM is by no means the only US company to be hurt by Trump's tariffs. His misguided economic policies are wreaking havoc in many industries. A number of smaller companies, including the country's largest nail manufacturer, have already laid off workers due to the tariffs, and such giants as Boeing, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola and General Electric have also suffered.
While this is a tremendous loss for the many blue-collar workers in America, it may finally motivate Americans to seek new leadership in the White House -- leadership that keeps its economic promises to the people.