Trump’s Trade War Tremors Hit the Farm Belt

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- President Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to declare that “Tariffs are the greatest!” Few elected Republicans agree with him. I’ve been writing for several months about the political damage Trump is courting for his party in launching a global trade war, since most of the retaliatory tariffs from China, Canada, Mexico, and the European Union are directed at his supporters. As U.S. industries from agriculture to automotive begin to feel the bite, that’s bound to become a political problem for Republicans across the country.

Now there’s evidence that Trump’s escalating trade war could cost his party dearly in November. This morning, political analyst Kyle Kondik, who writes the Crystal Ball newsletter for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, updated his ratings on 17 House races and in so doing illustrated how anxiety in the Farm Belt is weakening Republicans’ strength there. All 17 ratings changes were in favor of Democrats.

Iowa Representative Steve King’s district (IA-04) is hit harder by Chinese soybean tariffs that any other congressional district in the country. King will probably hold on to his seat—his race moved from a “Safe Republican” rating to “Leans Republican”—but voters in his district are plainly unhappy.

Another member of Iowa’s congressional delegation, Representative David Young, isn’t as fortunate. His 3rd District seat moved from “Leans Republican” to “Toss-Up.”

Farm Belt Republicans in Indiana and Illinois have seen their races drift in the same direction: Representatives Trey Hollingsworth (IN-09) and Jackie Walorski (IN-02) moved from “Safe” to “Likely,” while Representative  Peter Roskam (IL-06) shifted from “Leans Republican” to “Toss-Up.” In Kentucky’s 6th District, home to nearly 18,000 farmers, Representative Andy Barr’s race moved from “Leans” to “Toss-Up.”

While Trump’s tariffs may be starting to tilt some races in a Democratic direction, he still enjoys high approval ratings among his base. Plenty of Trump-supporting workers in affected industries are sticking by their president and remain confident he’s the shrewd negotiator he portrayed himself as on the campaign trail.

But one reason Republican strategists are so worried about the trade war is that Trump doesn’t appear to have any exit strategy—and as his tweet this morning demonstrated, he seems more intent on ratcheting up trade hostilities than diminishing them.

A clear sign that at least some White House advisers share these concerns came a few hours after Trump’s tweet: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue promised what amounts to a government welfare package for farmers caught in the trade war. But one concern held by King and other Republicans is that such an aid package, while it may help some farmers, won’t help the many ancillary businesses hurt by the tariffs. With no resolution in sight, that worry looms larger than ever.

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