The Republicans lost a lot of seats in the Midwest in the 2018 election. They lost two of Iowa’s four House seats, leaving them with only one Representative in a state that the GOP easily carried in 2016. In deeply Republican South Dakota, the Republicans barely won the election for governor. In Montana, they lost the Senate race. In Wisconsin, they lost the governor’s race.
This happened in spite of the fact that people in that region — especially farmers — moved toward the GOP in the 2016 presidential election, enabling it to carry states like Iowa and Wisconsin.
Some of these 2018 races were decided by very small margins. The margin of Democratic victory may have come from farmers voting against the GOP due to the White House’s policies about international trade, and its trade wars, which led to other countries buying less food from America.
You can’t say the White House wasn’t warned. “Across the Midwest, Farmers Warn of GOP Losses Due to Trump’s Trade Policy,” reported the New York Times in April. Right before the election, the Times reported, “Their Soybeans Piling Up, Farmers Hope Trade War Ends Before Beans Rot; North Dakota’s soybean crops are fluorishing; but China has stopped buying.”
Farmers didn’t suddenly become liberals. In Iowa, they continued voting heavily Republican in state and local elections, although not quite as much as in 2016. But at the federal level, disenchanted farmers voted for the Democrats at higher rates, some citing trade wars that wiped out markets for their crops. As the Des Moines Register noted, “Iowans delivered an apparent rebuke of Republicans in Congress while seemingly validating GOP efforts at the state level.”
Protectionism is a bad thing: Freer trade has been critical in reducing costs to consumers and reducing global poverty. It has expanded U.S. agricultural exports, helping farmers and the states they live in.
Freer trade has also boosted economic growth in the U.S., allowing manufacturers to obtain needed raw materials and components more cheaply, and thus preserve their overall competitiveness in selling airplanes and other manufactured goods that require such raw materials and components. Attempting to renegotiate free trade agreements antagonizes other countries and makes them less likely to cooperate with the U.S. in other spheres (such as enforcing sanctions against North Korea). Other countries feel like “a deal is a deal” and resent attempts to renegotiate what they previously agreed to. People are less likely to enter into an agreement with the U.S. to begin with, if they fear the U.S. may try to renegotiate it later.
In the 2016 election, the GOP benefited from farm-state opposition to the Obama administration’s bureaucratic overreaching, such as the Obama administration’s attempts to restrict farming on farms with puddles or drainage ditches. (The Obama administration sought to prevent such farming under its authority to regulate navigable waters under the Clean Water Act; in the face of opposition from farmers, it partially backed off, but still heavily regulated land use in a regulation that was so sweeping that an appeals court issued an injunction against it. Later, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama administration’s regulation, only to have a judge in a different court block the rescinding of the regulation based on a procedural technicality. Eventually, the Trump administration will manage to kill off that regulation, but it remains in effect in some states for the time being, due to the latter court ruling).
Rather than getting into trade wars, or trying to renegotiate things like NAFTA, the Trump administration should focus more on eliminating harmful Obama-era regulations that prevented the economy from growing much.
The Trump administration has helped the economy by bringing an end to the vast wave of government red tape that occurred under Obama. The economy is now growing faster than was typical under Obama, unemployment is at a 49-year low, and wages are finally growing faster than inflation. As the Competitive Enterprise Institute noted, Trump has pruned regulations more vigorously than any president since Reagan, and his administration withdrew or delayed over “1,500 Obama rules” that were in the pipeline. Regulations cost the economy “$2 trillion annually. This amounts to a hidden tax of nearly $15,000 per household.” Trimming more regulations will result in “more jobs and higher wages,” more “investment,” and better “productivity.”