How Trump Will Lose Rural Voters

There is no disputing the fact that Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by huge margins in rural areas. But since being inaugurated, he has embraced a few policies that go directly against their interests.

It was widely reported that a repeal of Obamacare, particularly the expansion of Medicaid, would hit rural areas the hardest. Not only would that have caused a lot of rural voters to lose their health insurance, it would have decimated the few hospitals that serve them. But because a lot of voters in those areas were unaware that their Medicaid coverage came via Obamacare, we didn’t see a great mobilization in rural areas against the repeal effort.

With Trump’s latest moves on trade, that could be changing. While tariffs on steel and aluminum won’t have a big affect on rural voters directly, keep in mind that a few days ago the president tweeted this:

The idea that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” would be anathema to any farmer or rural business that serves farmers. That is why someone like Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, issued a statement last week on the same day that Trump posted that tweet.

President Trump’s plans to place U.S. tariffs on imported steel and aluminum presents a real and viable threat to the future of U.S. agricultural trade and the prosperity of American agriculture. History has shown us that these types of actions lead to retaliation from our trade partners that ultimately destabilize markets for agricultural commodities; markets that Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers depend upon for their livelihoods.

Today, more than 30 percent of U.S. gross farm income is derived from our ability to export agricultural commodities. Retaliatory actions will most certainly target U.S. agricultural commodities, many of which are produced here in Nebraska. Contrary to the president’s assertions, trade wars are not good and they are not easy to win.

This morning Trump tweeted about the ridiculous notion of requiring China to reduce their trade deficit with the U.S. by about a quarter of a percent. It is hard to imagine China doing anything but laugh behind his back. But the president is clearly trying to provoke something, which is exactly what the agricultural industry is worried about. In Iowa, they’re hoping for assistance from their former governor, who now serves as Trump’s ambassador to China.

The man from Iowa who’s now in Beijing might help avoid a US-China trade war.

That’s what some farmers of soybeans in the Midwestern state are saying as they look to the former governor and now US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad to help avoid a US-China trade war that might target US soybean exports to China — the biggest buyer of US soybeans. It imported about $14 billion worth of US soybeans in 2016, or 60 percent of the total US crop, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Iowa is the second-largest soybean producing state after Illinois. There are roughly 70,000 to 80,000 soybean farmers in the two states, according to 2012 USDA census data…

The challenge may come in the form of Chinese retaliation if US President Donald Trump accepts the Feb 16 recommendations of the US Department of Commerce for heavy tariffs on imports of Chinese steel and aluminum…

Soybean curbs would directly affect farmers in Midwestern US states that voted for Trump’s election and that he needs to win re-election in 2020. All but two of the top 10 producing soybean states — Illinois and Minnesota — voted for Trump. If he follows through on his threats against China and imposes tariffs and quotas, farmers may abandon him.

The rational response to the idea that farmers would abandon the president if he follows through on igniting a trade war, particularly with China, is that Trump never made a secret of his intent to do so during the campaign. As many have noted, his position on trade is one of the only things that Trump has espoused since long before he got into politics. Why would anyone be surprised that he’s following through on those intentions?

Frankly, I have no idea. I could speculate until those Iowa cows come home about how they were drawn to Trump’s politics of resentment and assumed that he’d be smart enough to fight for better trade deals, but I don’t really know. However, when the livelihoods of farmers and those whose businesses depend on them take a hit due to a trade war, I’m pretty sure they’ll know who to blame.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .