WASHINGTON -- During President Trump's first two years in office, his standing with many voters was buoyed by a surge in manufacturing that helped create millions of new jobs and undergirded the whole U.S. economy.
But today, manufacturing has plunged into recession and is threatening to pull down other sectors, perhaps hitting hardest on supporters in those states that helped put Trump in office.
Impeachment may be dominating the news, but the less-noticed industrial slump ultimately could pose a greater threat to Trump's reelection.
As measured by the Federal Reserve, manufacturing output shrank over two straight quarters this year. That's the common definition of recession.
A separate, widely followed index drawn from purchasing managers showed September's contraction in manufacturing was the steepest since June 2009, with production, inventories and new orders all falling.
And after adding nearly half a million jobs in the prior two years, which Trump frequently stressed in hard-hat rallies throughout the Midwest, manufacturing employment has stalled.
Instead of healthy job growth, layoff announcements have spiked this year, especially in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. Friday's jobs report for September showed a slight drop in total factory jobs.
Manufacturing today accounts for only about 10% of economic activity, and so far, the overall economy and employment in the U.S. are still growing. But the pace has slowed considerably this year. The faltering industrial sector has started to crimp businesses in the transportation and warehousing sectors. And there are growing worries of spillover effects in the larger services sector and broader economy.
Even if the nation can avoid a recession next year, a manufacturing downturn could prove to be politically damaging for Trump, who rode to the White House on enthusiastic support from blue-collar workers in key states and on his promise to revive America's coal, steel and other industries.
Although manufacturing comprises a far smaller portion of the whole U.S. economy than it once did, it remains very important in a handful of swing states that Trump narrowly won in 2016 -- including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.