Conspicuously absent in the campaign pitches of Midwestern GOP politicians are enthusiastic statements for President Donald Trump's trade policies. Nowhere are the damaging economic effects more acutely felt than in the nation's farm belt. At a time when Republicans are scrounging for every possible vote to stave off embarrassing midterm defeats on Nov. 6, Trump's base in the rural Midwest is decidedly underwhelmed as livelihoods nosedive.
Two recent Post-Dispatch reports underscored the extent of the economic pain being felt as Midwesterners head to the polls. On Sunday, Bryce Gray reported that farmers in Missouri and Illinois feel as if they're being hit on all fronts. Prolonged drought has decimated their crop yields as falling commodity prices are chopping their incomes. Trump's tariff war against China has been particularly brutal.
China retaliated by imposing a 25 percent tariff on certain U.S. agricultural exports. Soybeans, the biggest export product from Missouri and Illinois, took a particularly sharp blow. A third of Missouri's soybean harvest is sold to Chinese buyers, as is an estimated 25 percent of Illinois' soybean crop, worth $1.75 billion.
A bumper crop in other parts of the country, combined with the loss of China sales, has glutted the soybean market. A bushel that sold for $10.20 in June 2016 was down to $8.59 this August. Blake Hurst, the president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, acknowledges that the tariff war "just completely knocked the stuffing out of the markets." Yet the bureau consistently supports Republican candidates and stands behind a Trump plan to send out $12 billion in farm-aid checks.
"We don't want to earn a living from the mailbox," counters Ronnie Russell, a soybean farmer from Richmond, Missouri.
Who needs these headaches? America's Heartland certainly doesn't. The 19 "American Heartland" states identified in a recent Brookings Institution and Walton Family Foundation study lead the country in production and exports, due largely to the agricultural output of states like Missouri and Illinois. Yet those states are the ones most consistently neglected by politicians in Washington.
In the 2016 campaign, Trump pledged to turn that around. Indeed, wages are slightly higher and poverty rates are slightly down, as the Post-Dispatch's Doug Moore reported last week. But the Heartland study also shows that the region continues to be poorer, with lower educational attainment and higher rates of obesity and opioid use.
No doubt in 2016, many of these imbalances factored in Midwestern voters' decision to experiment with Trump's brash new approach. But the experiment isn't paying the dividends he promised. The GOP politicians who backed Trump unquestioningly, driving up the deficit and ruining export markets, need to get the message on Nov. 6 that they've had their chance to deliver results. Now it's time to get out of the way.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH