GOP angst grows amid Trump trade war

Republicans are growing more nervous about next year’s race for the Senate as President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE ratchets up a trade war with China that increasingly threatens to cause pain to U.S. farmers.

To be sure, the 2020 elections remain more than a year off, the president is popular in farm country and voters in rural states largely have stuck with Trump through thick and thin as the economy has grown and the jobless rate has fallen. 

But GOP senators say few expected the trade war to last as long as it has. 

With markets plunging on Monday and China announcing retaliation against U.S. farm exports, fears are growing that the fight could take a bite out of pocketbooks and even pose a threat to GOP senators at the ballot box next year.

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“We all want to resolve this as soon as possible,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' The 8 Republicans who voted to curb Trump's Iran war powers MORE (Ind.) said Monday in response to a question about the impact of China’s actions. “We all want to keep this economy growing faster than we’ve seen in decades.”

Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonProgressive group backs Senate candidates in Georgia, Iowa Overnight Health Care: Trump budget calls for cutting Medicaid, ACA by T | Trump proposes removing FDA authority over tobacco | Lawmakers frustrated by lack of emergency funds for coronavirus Anti-abortion group backs Loeffler's election campaign after opposing her Senate appointment MORE (R-Ga.), whose home-state colleague Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) could face a tough race next year, said farmers are likely to take the brunt of punishment from China. 

“We’re an ag state in Georgia — 21 percent of our GDP [gross domestic product] is agriculture. Ag is where you most selectively can target tariffs to hurt the quickest, so you’re vulnerable from that standpoint,” he said.

Asked if that could have an impact on the Senate race, Isakson said “anything can have an impact on anything.” 

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstProgressive group backs Senate candidates in Georgia, Iowa Democrats seek to drive wedge between Trump, GOP on whistleblowers Senate acquits Trump, ending impeachment saga MORE (R-Iowa), who is up for reelection next year in a state that former President Obama won twice but that Trump carried by nearly 10 points in 2016, said she wants to have a conversation with Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueUSDA abandons America's schoolchildren USDA takes heat as Democrats seek probe into trade aid Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is designated survivor for 2020 State of the Union MORE about assistance for farmers.

Trump announced Monday that his administration will make about $15 billion in assistance available to farmers hurt by Chinese tariffs, but the National Farmers Union said that pledge would provide only a “temporary” fix and warned of “permanent damage” from farmers losing a share of the Chinese market.

“Already the corn farmers have called in. They’re very worried that they’ll be left behind,” Ernst said.

GOP senators have backed Trump’s hard line with Beijing, echoing Trump’s arguments that it will give the U.S. leverage.

“Raising tariffs will hurt both US & China economies + more importantly will hurt US farmers/consumers/businesses Enough is enough China needs to negotiate seriously & quit moving the goalpost Enforceable trade deal needed for certainty,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case Mnuchin defends Treasury regulations on GOP tax law Wyden, Mnuchin clash over Trump tax returns, Hunter Biden probe MORE (R-Iowa) tweeted on Monday.

Grassley also predicted that negotiators would soon be back at the bargaining table.

“Everything has suggested that they’re still talking,” he told reporters.

Ernst said China “needs to come to the table.”

What’s unclear is whether Beijing is feeling that urgency. The latest talks between China and the United States hit a standstill after Beijing refused to meet U.S. demands and was seen by Trump as backtracking on previous commitments.

Democrats see the growing anxiety in farm country as a chance to make inroads with rural voters.

“I think there is an opportunity. We have actually done some focus groups in farm country,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. “Farmers were very loyal to Trump and wanted to give him a chance and thought everybody needed to do their fair share, but I think it’s getting different now.”

Lake said Democrats have a chance to win over rural millennials, a demographic that Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocratic senator: 'The ultimate of ironies' for Trump to hit Romney for invoking his faith Committee on Veterans Affairs sends important message during tense Senate time Democrats cry foul over Schiff backlash MORE (D-Mont.) wooed successfully when he won reelection last year in a rural state that Trump carried by 20 points in 2016. 

“Even if we don’t do better with the farmers and ranchers themselves, there’s a real potential to do better with the small towns that are depending on the farmers and ranchers,” Lake added.

Democrats have failed to recruit high-profile stars to run against incumbent GOP senators, including in Colorado, Georgia, Montana and Texas. But other Democratic hopefuls are eager to take advantage of the political environment.

In Georgia, 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams passed on taking on Perdue. But possible Democratic challengers include former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson; businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico, a pro-choice evangelical Christian and former Republican; former House candidate Jon Ossoff, who raised more than $20 million for a House special election in 2017; and 2014 Senate Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn.

In Kansas, Democrats feel they have the best chance in years to capture a Senate seat with Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsKobach says he discussed his Senate bid with Trump Republicans expect Trump to withdraw controversial Fed nominee Celebrating and expanding upon five years of the ABLE  Act MORE’s (R-Kan.) retirement.

Ethan Corson, the executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said farmers in his state are losing patience with Trump’s trade wars.

“Right now it has dragged on far longer than they anticipated and I think their patience is really being tested,” he said. “I think we’re really reaching a breaking point in terms of their willingness to support the Republican trade war,”

Democrats captured Kansas’s governor’s mansion and the 3nd Congressional District in 2018 and feel they have momentum going into 2020.
GOP nervousness about keeping the seat was revealed earlier this year by McConnell’s efforts to woo Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo promotes economic ties, takes aim at corruption in Africa visit Russian foreign minister says he sensed 'more constructive' approach after meeting with Pompeo Donald Trump: Unrepentant, on the attack and still playing the victim MORE, a former House member from Kansas, to run for Roberts’s seat.

Roberts warned Monday that Trump’s trade policies threaten to erode support for Republicans among rural voters.

“Come the summer months, if something doesn’t give on this, I think you’re going to see more and more — I don’t know what to call it — angst,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough time.”

“It will be a campaign issue, of course. There’s a lot of political ramifications. People underestimate the rural vote,” he added. “It eats at his base. We’re the people who brought him home.”

Roberts said he can already see farm issues having an impact on the 2020 election, noting that presidential candidates such as Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Budget hawks frustrated by 2020 politics in entitlement reform fight MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Bloomberg hits Sanders supporters in new ad MORE (I-Vt.) have released farm plans. 

Senate Democrats are going on the offensive, warning that Trump’s tariffs could have a devastating effect on rural areas.

“It obviously is going to have a major impact and I have long advocated for them to go back to the negotiating table,” said Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Judd Gregg: Bloomberg rising MORE (D-Minn.), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who is running for president. 

“You can only sustain so much. We already have soybean farmers with their soybeans stacked up,” she added. “They got some help from USDA [the Department of Agriculture] but the ones I’ve talked to, that’s not the way they want to run their business. They want to actually sell things.”