WASHINGTON, July 27, 2016 - Donald Trump’s campaign is also betting that it can win agribusiness support and run up margins in rural areas by tapping into anger about federal regulations and land management issues. At the same time, the campaign is walking a fine line on trade and immigration, trying to assure producers that Trump understands their concerns about his attacks on trade agreements and illegal immigration without being seen as flip-flopping on the two issues the campaign feels are vital to winning the Rust Belt states he must carry this fall.
Key to carrying out that strategy is the agricultural advisory team and policy statement that the campaign will release by the end of the next week, according to Sam Clovis, a senior policy adviser to Trump and national campaign co-chairman. Clovis said the agribusiness effort is part of a broader coalition-building effort aimed at building grass-roots support and raising money for the campaign.
The campaign is trying to “make sure we’re able to energize farmers and ranchers across the country and all of the people who support the ag industry, to make sure we have the opportunity to get people to energize the voter base in this particular area,” Clovis said in an interview with Agri-Pulse on the sidelines of the GOP convention in Cleveland.
The names of advisory council members will be released by the end of next week along with a position statement on agricultural policy, Clovis said. About 15 agribusiness leaders participated in a conference call just before the GOP convention with Clovis and Charles W. Herbster, who is chairing the effort.
Herbster, a Trump contributor, has an Angus breeding operation and farm in Nebraska and owns the Conklin Co., a network marketing company involved in agronomic services and other products.
In a separate interview with Agri-Pulse, Herbster Clovis says that formation of the agribusiness advisory team will “make sure that people understand that no decisions … related to farming, ranching and land management” will be made without considering the impact on them.
The Trump campaign believes that producers will recognize that they have no alternative to Trump on regulatory issues, and that may offset concerns they may have about him on trade, immigration or other matters. “When you look at Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on balance, the choice becomes very clear very quickly,” Clovis said. “Who’s a person that understands business? There’s not a farmer in the United States that isn’t a premier business person because every farm is a business.”
Clovis went on: The “modern farmer wants government out of his life. He wants regulations that make sense, or he wants to have a business and run a business without having to fight the EPA, the IRS … and we have a way of doing that. If Hillary Clinton is elected that’s not going to happen.”
Trump made clear at the convention, if it wasn’t already, that he’s going to keep attacking U.S. trade policy all the way to November. His acceptance speech in Cleveland on July 21 included an extended attack on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
And during a subsequent , Trump reiterated his threat to slap stiff import tariffs on companies that move factories out of the United States, and he said the United States might withdraw from the World Trade Organization if it objects. The WTO would be expected to rule such duties to be illegal. “It doesn't matter,” Trump said. “Then we're going to renegotiate or we’re going to pull out. These trade deals are a disaster, Chuck. (The) World Trade Organization is a disaster.”
Former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who is assisting Clovis and Herbster in setting up the Trump advisory council, suggested that Trump might be bluffing on at least one promise, not to do multilateral trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Heineman said Trump could negotiate changes in the deal, which is what Clinton has proposed. “Let’s get Donald Trump in there and renegotiate a trade deal that’s good for agriculture, good for manufacturing and all parts of our economy,” Heineman said.
But former presidential candidate and Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, whose book “Blue Collar Conservatives” says he expects Trump to stick with his criticism of the TPP and multilateral agreements broadly. “He’ll stay on the message of hopefully enforcing our trade laws, which we don’t do, and promoting trade but doing it in a way that respects America’s ability to represent its interest in bilateral agreements,” said Santorum, who attended the GOP convention and urged delegates to support Trump.
Clovis said he understands that farmers and agribusiness companies are nervous about Trump’s opposition to TPP and his threat to impose stiff duties on China, a critical market for U.S. soybeans in particular.
“What they ought to be nervous about is the fact that we have countries that we’re trading with who do not play by the rules. All we have ever said from the start of our campaign is that we want everybody to play by the rules. If you have a country that is manipulating currency or if they are committing unfair trade practices or they are manipulating prices because of their purchases … that’s not good for the farmers.”
He also said that the attacks on trade policy are critical to the campaign’s strategy for winning states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio where voters believe they have lost jobs to China and Mexico. “Have you been to a rally in one of these Rust Belt states? I tell you what, trade has hammered the northern tier of states in incredible ways – Ohio, Indiana Illinois, Iowa to some extent, certainly going into Pennsylvania, and New York and New Hampshire. You ought to go to New Hampshire and see what’s happened because of NAFTA, what’s happened because of the Chinese – it’s been devastating.”
On the immigration issue, Heineman seemed to suggest that the threat to deport illegal immigrants wasn’t ironclad. “Let's see what happens after the election, how you go about doing it,” he said.
But Clovis would offer no reassurances to farmers who may be worried about losing their workers. Clovis said the campaign can’t afford to go back on Trump’s pledge to enforce immigration laws, an issue that “has been at the core of the campaign since the beginning.”
“How do we go to there and all of a sudden say we’re going to do this, except for farmers. Or we’re going to do this, except for ag workers? We’re going to do this, except for meat producers? We’re going to do this, except for,” and he paused. “You can’t do that, because you’re going to run a campaign. We made a promise to the American people and we’re going to keep it.”
The Trump advisers said they would be reaching out at some point to Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas. “There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that we need to interface with” those committees, said Heineman.
Heineman will find a receptive listener in Conaway, who attended the convention and told Agri-Pulse flatly that “Donald Trump is the choice for the Republicans in the fall.”
“As people look at Hillary appointing the Supreme Court vacancies, all the things that a third Barack Obama term would do, I think it’s going to be clear what we all have to do,” Conaway added. “When I say I’m going to vote Republican or vote for Trump, it’ll be the same thing.”
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