WASHINGTON, March 23, 2016 - Former presidential candidate Ben Carson, defending his endorsement of Donald Trump, famously opined that there are two Trumps -- the bombastic public version and the more cerebral Trump who in private can converse in detail about complex policies. Two Iowans who spent some time with the GOP front-runner talking about farm and ethanol policy say they experienced the second side of Trump. 

Eric Branstad, director of the ethanol advocacy group America’s Renewable Future, and Annette Sweeney, a former Republican state legislator who co-chairs the group, first met with Trump nearly a year ago in a private box at Des Moines’ downtown minor league baseball stadium. The only other person in the room was Trump’s Iowa campaign director Chuck Laudner. 

In separate interviews with Agri-Pulse, Branstad and Sweeney said Trump asked them detailed questions about the ethanol production process, the biofuel market, the effect of oil prices, and about the use of distillers grains as cattle feed, something Sweeney and her husband, Dave, do on their farm. 

Sweeney said Trump showed interest, for example, in how her husband, who majored in animal science, blends the cattle rations. 

“He was asking such good questions,” said Sweeney, who described for Trump the history of her family’s farm. “I discussed the different parts of agriculture to where my husband figures out all the nutritional aspects of feeding cattle. He found out that we don’t waste any of that kernel of corn when we make ethanol.”

Branstad, who also observed Trump during a roundtable last November at Poet Biorefining’s Gowrie, Iowa, ethanol plant, came to like Trump so much that he went to his precinct caucus Feb. 1 and spoke for him. 

“In a one-on-one conservation or a small group roundtable setting he’s very clear, and he’s a great listener, and he’s very engaged and part of the conversation,” said Branstad, the son of Iowa’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad.

“He’s not just there nodding his head and telling you what you want to hear… He’s straightforward. He asks great questions… He cares what you’re talking about and what you’re saying.”

Last September Trump provided an unequivocal endorsement of the Renewable Fuel Standard in response to a question at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition meeting. He repeated his support again in January at an industry meeting.

Sweeney’s take on the question of whether there are two Trumps is that he essentially plays to his audience as he needs to: “You’ve got to be on when you’re in front of the public. You have to watch or do what you think needs to happen when the cameras are on. But when it comes down to brass tacks and business, that’s not done in front of the media.”

And when the media tries to pin him down on specific issues, like trade, the outcome is more uncertain. On Monday, Trump met with The Washington Post editorial board and trade figured into several of his answers.

According to the transcript, Trump linked the U.S. trade deficit with China to unemployment and unrest in inner city America. He also suggested using trade as leverage against China on national security issues.

Asked at one point about how the United States should deal with Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, Trump said:

“We have power over China and people don’t realize it. We have trade power over China. I don’t think we are going to start World War III over what they did, it affects other countries certainly a lot more than it affects us. But… I always say we have to be unpredictable. We’re totally predictable.”

Asked whether trade could force China to back off, Trump said, “Well, you start making it tougher.”

China “can easily sell their product here. No tax, no nothing, just ‘Come on, bring it all in, you know, bring in your apples, bring in everything you make’ and no taxes whatsoever, right?”

Trump, who has threatened to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been broadly beneficial to U.S. agriculture, also doubled down in his criticism of Mexico. “Mexico is really becoming the new China. And I have great issue with that. Because you know I use in speeches sometimes Ford or sometimes I use Carrier – it’s all the same: Ford, Carrier, Nabisco, so many of the companies — they’re moving to Mexico now… We shouldn’t be allowing that to happen.”


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