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Sparks

Trump’s ‘Bloodbath’ Comment Was Actually About EVs

And he wasn’t entirely wrong.

Donald Trump.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

You won’t hear me say this often, but Donald Trump kind of sort of has a point.

On Monday, the former president and presumed Republican nominee rebutted headlines that claimed he’d predicted a “‘bloodbath’ if he loses” the November election. To be sure, “bloodbath” isn’t a word you want to throw around when you’re accused of architecting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. One could probably even make the three-dimensional chess case that Trump intentionally used the word to trigger coverage of his comments.

Whatever the case may be, he posted Monday on Truth Social that the Fake News Media “pretended to be shocked at my use of the word BLOODBATH even though they fully understood that I was simply referring to” — that is, electric vehicles from China.

Trump’s full comment came during a rally in Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend and read as follows:

To China, if you’re listening — President Xi, you and I are friends, but he understands the way I deal. Those big monster car manufacturing plants that you are building in Mexico right now, and you think you are going to get that, not hire Americans, and you’re going to sell the car to us — no. We are going to put a 100% tariff on every single car that comes across the lot and you’re not going to be able to sell those cars if I get elected. Now, if I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath for the whole — that’s going to be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country. That’ll be the least of it. But they’re not going to sell those cars.

Aaaand here’s where my defense of Trump runs out. While he’s correct about some in the media taking his “bloodbath” remark out of context, “there actually are no operating Chinese-owned EV factories in Mexico,” Ilaria Mazzocco, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an expert on Chinese climate policy, told me.

Trump’s remarks are “not particularly surprising,” though, “in the sense that this topic has become politicized very rapidly,” Mazzocco added. Fear is growing in Detroit and in Washington, D.C. that inexpensive Chinese-branded EVs could make their way to the U.S. from yet-to-be-built plants in Mexico, hurting American automakers whose EVs can’t compete at that lower price point yet. As Robinson Meyer wrote for Heatmap, the booming Chinese automaker BYD “recently advertised an $11,000 plug-in hybrid targeted at the Chinese market … Even doubling its price with tariffs would keep it firmly among [the United States’] most affordable new vehicles.”

Mazzocco said this isn’t wholly a bad thing — “there’s a point of value to competition that we shouldn’t forget.” The threat of cheap Chinese EVs has already driven American automakers including Ford to reassess their electric lineups. That’s a plus since Ford’s smaller and more affordable cars would not only fill a gap in the U.S. EV market, they’d also address the fact that electric vehicles need to get “cheaper everywhere … if we are to fight climate change,” Meyer has pointed out.

But! It’s also an election year. “EVs have encapsulated everybody’s fears of competition with China,” Mazzocco reminded me. It’s been a particularly rude awakening to realize that Beijing is “actually better at something than the Americans are.” In the face of this reality, both Biden and Trump have been fighting to look tougher than the other on China, especially in big auto states like Michigan, where Trump has likewise slammed EVs at his rallies, and Ohio, which could potentially decide control of the White House.

Biden has already ordered the Commerce Department to investigate the potential national security threat of Chinese-made EVs, which currently make up only about 2% of EV imports to the U.S. in the form of Polestar, the first Chinese-owned EV company to make moves in the U.S. last year, but hardly one that’s thriving.

The truth is, there’s plenty to debate regarding what America and its automakers should do about the rise of Chinese EVs. When doing so, however — ahem, Mr. Former President — it’s always better to have your facts straight.

Yellow

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City. Read More

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