GOP angst grows amid Trump trade war

Republicans are growing more nervous about next year’s race for the Senate as President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller 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 YoungHouse votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout GOP chairman introduces bill to force 'comprehensive review' of US-Saudi relationship 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 IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonGeorgia senator hospitalized after fall Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown VA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides 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 ErnstTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout House Dems, Senate GOP build money edge to protect majorities 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 PerdueAgriculture Department's relocation of ERS and NIFA: A solution in search of a problem This is not the way to move USDA agencies out of Washington American farmers can't afford this administration's climate apathy 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 GrassleyScandal in Puerto Rico threatens chance at statehood Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Democrat: Treasury 'acknowledged the unprecedented process' in Trump tax return rejection 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) TesterPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives 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 RobertsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Pompeo on Senate run: 'I always leave open the possibility that something will change' CNN's Cuomo spars with Kris Kobach over whether Trump's tweet was racist 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: There's 'no indication' Iran will change direction Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Trump confirms he authorized Rand Paul to negotiate with Iran 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 WarrenHarris faces pressure to define policy proposals Harris voices support for Puerto Rico protesters: 'I stand with them' Democrats slam Puerto Rico governor over 'shameful' comments, back protesters MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersBullock: I would not have endorsed health care for undocumented immigrants on debate stage Harris faces pressure to define policy proposals Biden campaign rips 'Medicare for All,' calls on Dems to protect Affordable Care Act 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 KlobucharDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage Protect American patients and innovation from a harmful MedTech Tax increase 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.”