GOP angst grows amid Trump trade war

Republicans are growing more nervous about next year’s race for the Senate as President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push 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 YoungBipartisan senators unveil measure to end surprise medical bills Pence, McConnell eulogize Sen. Richard Lugar On The Money: GOP angst grows over Trump's trade war | Trump promises help for 'Patriot Farmers' | Markets rebound | CBO founding director Alice Rivlin dies | Senate to vote on disaster aid bill next week 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 IsaksonSenators say they've reached deal on Puerto Rico aid Klobuchar: Trump plan doesn't deal with 'comprehensive immigration issue' Pence, McConnell eulogize Sen. Richard Lugar 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 ErnstCongress, White House near deal on spending, debt limit Trump mulling visit to ethanol refinery later this month: report Bullock: Running for Senate 'never really got me excited' 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 PerdueOn The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls GOP senator calls for resolution of trade dispute: 'Farmers and ranchers are hurting' Trump touts farmers' access to Mexico, Canada: 'Please make sure that you are treated fairly' 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 GrassleyTrump mulling visit to ethanol refinery later this month: report Nursing home care: A growing crisis for an aging America  Senate chairman says bipartisan health care package coming Thursday 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) TesterOvernight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds GOP angst grows amid Trump trade war Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto 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 RobertsWomen's civil rights are not a state issue The Hill's 12:30 Report: Tough questions await Trump immigration plan Pat Robertson: Alabama 'has gone too far' with 'extreme' abortion law 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 PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds 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 Warren2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights Harris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Iowa Democrats brace for caucus turnout surge 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 KlobucharHarris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers GOP senators split over antitrust remedies for big tech Fox's Brit Hume fires back at Trump's criticism of the channel 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.”