Trump 3

Corn grows in front of a barn carrying a large “Trump” sign in rural Ashland, Neb. President Donald Trump continues to be popular with many farmers.

Earlier this month we published a story that tried to gauge whether rural voters still support Donald Trump. It appears that they do.

We don’t think potential opponents in the upcoming campaign are doing much to understand Trump’s appeal to those voters and address their concerns.

Rural voters accounted for 17% of the electorate in the 2016 elections and Trump carried 62% of the rural vote, according to exit polls. Electoral maps show the president largely carried rural counties in the Pacific Northwest.

A recent poll by Grinnell College in Iowa shows that Trump’s approval rating among rural voters ranges from 56% to 63% on issues such as his performance as president, the economy and immigration.

Support for Trump in rural areas is not unanimous or homogenous. Even among supporters it’s not uncommon to hear frank discussions of the president’s shortcomings — both in policy and manners.

The president has delivered a mixed bag for farmers and ranchers.

On the campaign trail Trump railed against trade deals he said were unfair to the United States. Agriculture depends on foreign trade and the prospect of more advantageous treaties was just as appealing in rural America as it was in the industrial Midwest.

The president’s mercurial negotiating style can be as vexing for his fellow countrymen as it is for trading partners.

His on-again, off-again trade war with China has had a huge impact on farmers. His imposition of punitive tariffs on Mexico and Canada even as he was announcing a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement led to retaliatory duties on farm products.

But that deal has now passed the House. There are bilateral agreements with Japan and South Korea. Phase One of a multi-part agreement has been announced with China.

The president has delivered on his promise to reduce government regulation, most notably in reversing the controversial “Waters of the U.S.” rule. Farmers and ranchers have mostly benefitted from the 2017 tax reforms.

Rural voters largely felt left out of the conversation during the eight years of the Obama administration. But our sources say the Trump administration is listening and they are being heard — even if they don’t always get what they want.

Trump has twice addressed the American Farm Bureau Federation’s national convention and has addressed the FFA’s convention once. No president since George H.W. Bush has done either.

A frenetic spellbinder, Trump is a master at keeping the attention of both friends and foes focused on himself and his agenda.

It would be a mistake for challengers to believe that his rural supporters are being manipulated. Trump is merely giving voice to positions on trade, regulation, taxes and the role of government that they already had.

If they want the rural vote, challengers must come more in line with those views.

In 2016 many rural voters saw Trump as the lesser of two evils. With just 10 months until the next election, they aren’t seeing a viable alternative in 2020.

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