Inside D.C.

Rural, ag votes up for grabs

It’s a good thing the general election is more than a year away for all parties concerned – Democrats and the Republican incumbent – if only because it gives every White House wannabe 12-plus months to fix what they’ve individually screwed up. 

When it comes to Democrats who wish to replace President Trump, the candidates presumptive have forgotten “all politics is local,” as former House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D, MA) liked to say.  For Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, VT) to continually tout health care and education programs with trillion-dollar price tags, rationalizing corporations and “the wealthiest among us” will pay for them, is shortsighted.  For IT maven Andrew Yang to talk about sending monthly checks to all U.S. adults and restructuring U.S. diets to remedy climate change issues, well, ditto.  As for former Vice President Joe Biden, he seems to have decided discretion – or silence – is the better part of valor, at least for now.  The rest of the field make up a roster of possible running mates; they’ll do as they’re told.

The fact there’s arguably no front-runner candidate with a real world understanding of production agriculture, agribusiness or broader rural issues is a sad comment on the game in play.   

The last 10 days, pundits contend, is perhaps the lowest point in at-home and global perceptions of the president in his nearly three years in office.  In fairness, his job approval and favorability ratings continue to hover just above the 40th percentile, roughly tied with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA).  While it’s way above my pay grade to explain the administration’s Middle East or any other global policy, it seems Trump continues to overestimate himself or underestimate/dismiss those with whom he doesn’t agree.  The result generally is at worst perceived as confusion, or at best, a president wearing blinders and deaf to those who know better.  

Interestingly, several major nations are increasingly weary of Trumpian tactics, having decided to simply move forward issues with trusted allies, permitting the U.S. to catch up or stay home, as it will.

A good example of issue deafness is “our patriotic farmers,” as Trump calls producers.  The White House apparently thinks the big issue on farmers’ minds is trade, specifically resumption of trade with China.  While certainly a priority given the time and money producers invested in that market, Trump believes rhetorically patting producers on the head, while throwing billions at them in the form of federal payments is enough.  The latest bone thrown is the president’s assurance that “phase one” of a just-announced U.S.-China tariff détente – a comprehensive deal is too elusive right now – will bring “ramped up” purchases of $40-50 billion in U.S. ag products over time.  While China’s buying has been more aggressive lately, sales of that magnitude haven’t yet materialized – China says purchases are about needs and price – and, it should be remembered, farmers heard that promise just before China walked away from negotiations last May.

Trump and his team should listen to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue when he explains farmers see botched biofuels policy – the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), overly generous small refinery exemptions (SREs) and an overheated Renewable Identification Number (RIN) marketplace – as a much more critical economic issue across rural America and one, if mishandled, that will cost Trump votes come November, 2020.

Farmers haven’t threatened Trump’s reelection during his ongoing tariff tirade with China.  Producers get that China doesn’t play by global trading rules as the U.S. does.  They understand China manipulates its currency on world markets, engages in “forced technology transfers” and outright purloins U.S. intellectual property as the “cost of doing business” with the world’s second largest economy.   Producers are willing to bite the bullet and support the president in bringing the Chinese to heel if they wish untariffed trade with the U.S. 

However, Trump’s recently announced “deal” for handling SREs, EPA’s failure to credibly posit a plan to reallocate lost ethanol/biodiesel gallons and his administration’s general misunderstanding of an evolved farmer reliance on the RFS left producers so outraged they’ve begun threatening publicly to pull their support for the current White House occupant.  Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) CEO Craig Floss is now seriously media popular, having relayed last week what one state farmer told him, to wit: “No more Iowa nice. Now it’s Iowa pissed.”  Nevertheless, at this week’s cabinet meeting, Perdue said “once they fully understand what you’ve done…” farmers will be “fine.” Trump responded that farmers and ranchers “seem to be very happy.  They deserve to be happy.”

Iowa’s statewide caucuses, the first White House popularity contest, are February 3.

That being said about the current and possible future White House occupant, polls gauging support among rural, small town, non-college graduate, etc., voters show Trump support dropping as missteps compound.  However, in late August, the Washington Post, in a story on fly-over state election leanings, wrote of frustrated farmers: “Many of those grumbling about Trump today concede they are unlikely to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate next year.”

Local economic reality dictates the accuracy of the Post statement depends not only Trump’s policy moving forward, but on the Democrat, Independent or third party candidate name opposite his on the ballot. 

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