In the heart of Iowa's farm country, Americans who supported Donald Trump are now questioning the president's wisdom. Recently announced plans to levy tariffs on numerous goods from China could end up harming the livelihood of farmers in an area where Trump received 80 percent of the vote.
The grumbling hardly signals a looming leftward lurch in this dominantly Republican region in northwest Iowa. But after standing with Trump through the many trials of his first year, some Sioux County Trump voters say they would be willing to walk away from the president if the fallout from the tariffs causes a lasting downturn in the farm economy.
“I wouldn’t sit here today and say I will definitely support him again,” said 60-year-old hog farmer Marv Van Den Top. “This here could be a real negative for him.”
After Trump revealed his intention to place tariffs on incoming Chinese goods last week, the country hit back saying it would tax U.S. goods in kind, including pork and aluminum.
That sent a chill through places like Sioux County, which ranks first among Iowa’s 99 counties in agricultural exports. In 2016, the county sold $350 million in meat, grain, machinery and chemicals overseas.
Countermeasures by China, which is second only to Canada in importing Iowa products, could cause pain across the American agricultural sector, according to economists. For instance, a pork tariff imposed by China, which spent $42 million on Iowa pork products in 2017, would back up the Iowa market and force prices sharply downward.
Some farmers are on the fence as to whether they would continue to support Trump if the fallout from a trade war hits close to home:
“Any time you’re losing money, nobody’s happy,” [Brad Te Grootenhuis] said. “I’ve got payments to make, plain and simple.”
“There is an uncertainty to exactly what the next two to three years are going to look like,” [Tim] Schmidt said. A Trump voter in 2016, Schmidt said that if “things are bad and someone better comes along, we’re willing to take a look.”
“Protecting our U.S. industries is important, but my concern is, at what expense to the farmer?” [Dave] Heying said of Trump’s trade moves. “It is too early to say whether or not I would support him. These types of decisions give you hesitation.”
Others in the area are more optimistic and willing to give Trump a chance:
“You have to have faith in our innovation and entrepreneurialship in this country,” said Ed Westra, a grain cooperative manager and Trump devotee. “You’ve got to think of the big game.”
But that big game could do serious damage to local economies in Iowa as well as other agricultural hubs, according to some economists.
“Retaliatory tariffs from China would have a devastating impact on U.S. agricultural exports, especially if they focus on products like soybeans and hogs,” said Adam Kamins, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. “This puts northwest Iowa and the Great Plains more broadly on the front line in a trade war.”