Down in the Weeds: Iowa

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

This past year, the longest serving Republican in the Iowa legislature switched parties because… OrangeManBad.  Rep. Andy McKean said that politics had become too partisan in the age of Trump and was nothing like when he first entered the state house in 1978!  Well, duh!  Said the illustrious Kasichite:

I think the party has veered very sharply to the right. And that concerns me. It’s a bit further than I would care to be.  The country will pay a heavy price (for Trump’s policies and rhetoric).  Unacceptable behavior should be called out for what it is.

These are such lofty words from a 70-year-old fossil of an establishment Republican still stuck in 1978 mode.  As Joe Kaufman, the Iowa state GOP chief said: “When Rep. McKean ran in 2016, he had no problem riding to victory on President Trump’s coattails.  He’s about to feel the headwind of Trump’s support in District 58.”

One can add:  Goodbye and good riddance.

Does Trump himself face headwinds in Iowa?  It is hard to tell at this juncture.  The state GOP decided, unlike other states, to hold a Republican caucus rather than forego such in favor of Trump.  This likely has less to do with disaffection with Trump among Iowa Republicans, and more to do with their status as the first-in-the-nation caucus of which they are quite proud.

According to a Des Moines Register/CNN poll, Trump’s approval rating among Iowa Republicans stands at 85%.  That same poll revealed that 75% of Republicans in the state support Trump’s approach to trade with China and greater than 50% said that the tariffs have actually helped Iowa farmers.  Regarding Trump’s policy towards ethanol, 53% are in agreement, but about 28% said they were unsure.  Support for the ethanol policy climbs to 60% among rural Republicans.  In fact, in a previous poll taken in March, Trump’s numbers on these issues- trade, tariffs, China and ethanol- have shown improvement among GOP voters.

In 2016, Iowa was the state where more counties flipped from Obama to Trump than other state in the country.  Trump will have to maintain those numbers if he hopes to win the state in 2020.  Along the eastern border with the Mississippi River, Trump won nine out of ten counties and in areas that traditionally leaned toward the Democrats.

Still and all, the disagreement with China over trade has caused John Deere to reduce production 20% and layoff 160 workers in the Quad Cities along that important eastern border.  The biggest market for Iowa soybeans was China.  When the Trump EPA waived ethanol blending requirements, Iowa agribusiness was further stunned.  Although there has been changes since that announcement, Iowa voters are waiting to see if mothballed ethanol plants in the northwest section of Iowa are re-opened.

In the interim, Iowa farmers are scheduled to receive $767 million from Trump’s trade assistance program which totals $16 billion.  They are the state that will receive the most money from these funds.

Besides Trump, Republican Senator Joni Ernst is on the ballot along with four House seats.  Ernst seemed content to lay low in the bushes and coast to reelection given her relatively good approval ratings that have taken a hit of late.  On recent visits to Iowa, she has been inundated with requests with her stance on impeachment.  Although saying she supports protections for government “whistleblowers,” she declined to take a stance on impeachment.

That is unfortunate!  Among Republicans in Iowa, impeachment barely registers as a concern.  To them, and likely many independents and perhaps some Democrats, impeachment is nothing but DC noise.  And like elsewhere, although some may disagree with the rhetoric or tactics of Trump, they also realize it is what it is and they have become inoculated against the Trump “outside noise.”  In other words, they see actions and drown out the words.  Nowhere is this more apparent than Clinton county- one of those counties along the eastern border.  Dan Smicker, head of the county GOP, said that three years ago, more people came through his door asking for Trump lawn signs and how to switch party affiliation to the GOP.  Those trends have continued unabated into 2020.

In House races, Rep. Steven King represents 39 ruby red counties in the western half of Iowa.  Although a lightning rod for the Democrats who have sought to censure the Congressman, defeating him at the ballot box has proven vexing.  Instead, they may have to rely upon his ouster from the House through a GOP primary challenge from state senate leader and chairman of their powerful Ways and Means Committee, Randy Feenstra.  If anyone thinks King will roll over and play dead, they are seriously mistaken.  Seventeen years ago, King emerged from a crowded GOP primary field and has never looked back.  He has faced primary opponents before and easily dispatched them.  Feenstra, on the other hand, has never faced a primary or general election opponent in his three campaigns for the state senate.  One wonders how this one will shake out, but it would be in the best interests of Trump not to wade into the primary battle.  Either way, he will find a willing ally in King or Feenstra.

As for those concerns of Iowa farmers and agribusiness, could it be that Trump has an almost “October surprise” in mind when it comes to trade with China?  Inquisitive minds want to know as this may redefine the race in the entire Midwest come 2020.

Next: Kansas and Nebraska