It is a quote that sounds like it comes straight out of a Donald Trump campaign rally:
“I predict jobs and investment going to Mexico like Olympic sprinters and in return we’ll get a used Ford pickup truck, two tons of heroin and three baseball players to be named later.”
But it wasn't Trump who said it. It was then-congressman Jim Traficant of Ohio, who roiled his Youngstown-area congressional district two decades ago with tirades against trade, closed factories and a system "rigged" against the little guy.
A new documentary about the legendary crooked congressman — TRAFICANT: The Congressman of Crimetown — serves as a fascinating reminder that Trump is not the first politician to mine votes from a rich populist/outsider vein in downtrodden Rust Belt towns.
Traficant was the Mahoning County, Ohio, sheriff who ran against the political establishment and won, saying he would cast the mob out of the area. He was later caught on tape taking bribes from mob figures, but he beat a federal racketeering case by arguing that he was running a secret sting operation against the crooks. Acting as his own attorney, Traficant claimed his signed confession was a fraud, the taped conversations were doctored, and the Justice Department was out to get him. And he won.
Like Trump, Traficant was a master of using the media to spread his legend. The TV lights would go on "and he would give some outrageous quote and that led the evening news every time," said former Republican official Bill Binning. Sound familiar?
Traficant long harbored a rage against the Justice Department and the IRS, and the film commemorates one of his standard lines that also sounds like the tagline of the Trump campaign: "I love America but hate the government."
And like Trump, there was always a question about how much of Traficant's bluster was for real and how much was an act. "He knows who his audience is," says Youngstown Vindicator columnist Bertram de Souza in the film "He plays to his audience even though he doesn't believe a lot of the things he says."
Traficant ultimately lost his battle with the government, convicted of taking bribes and kickbacks, was expelled from Congress and spent seven years in prison. (Full disclosure: I covered this trial and my face shows up in the film's shots of the press pack surrounding Traficant outside the courthouse.)
But "Jimbo" still ran for re-election from prison and received more than 20,000 votes.
Traficant died in 2014 after a tractor accident at his farm.
“Trump's lines are straight out of Traficant's playbook," said TRAFICANT filmmaker Eric Murphy. "In fact, I think Traficant would be accusing Trump of stealing his populist act.”