Staff Editorial

Trade war: Time for Iowa GOP to cash in political chips

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping hold bilateral meetings at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping hold bilateral meetings at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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A common approach to politics is to cozy up to election winners in hopes of earning influence. Sure, it’s more than a little cynical, but also pragmatic.

Iowa Republicans have spent plenty of time ingratiating themselves to President Donald Trump, but the fruits of the second part of the strategy — earning influence — remain to be seen.

Iowa political leaders who endorsed Trump in the election and defended him since are facing their most important challenge yet. Trump has vowed to wage an international trade war, and the consequences will be severe for Iowa’s economy.

If ever there was a moment for Iowa Republicans to cash in their political capital and persuade their friend Trump, this is it.

U.S. and Chinese officials announced plans in recent weeks to slam each other with steep tariffs. Notably for Iowa, that includes tariffs on agriculture products going to China, and on steel products coming to the U.S.

A long list of farm and manufacturing leaders say those policies will wreak havoc on the Midwest economy. Stock markets and agriculture futures have suffered substantial dips from that news.

Economists may debate the specific impacts of Trump’s impending trade war, but there is almost no disagreement among reputable scholars that the outcome will be bad for Americans, especially those in states like Iowa.

Governors and senators from several agriculture-dependent states met with Trump at the White House last week to discuss concerns over the administration’s trade policy. Meeting attendees said Trump showed an interest in restarting the U.S.-Asia trade negotiations he abandoned last year, which would be a major win for U.S. agricultural exporters.

“We must continue pursuing policies that enhance our competitiveness, rather than reducing our access to foreign markets. I remain committed to working with the Trump administration toward a stronger trade agenda on behalf of Iowans,” Sen. Joni Ernst said in a statement to the media following her meeting with Trump.

We are cautiously optimistic that meeting will lead Trump to make wiser decisions regarding trade policy. However, we also recognize the president is fickle at best, and dangerously erratic at his worst.

We urge Ernst, Gov. Kim Reynolds and other Iowa leaders to trust but verify. The newest developments may be encouraging, but it’s imperative to keep pressure on Trump to follow through.

When a reporter asked Trump about a negative headline on a Quad-City Times editorial earlier in the week — “Iowans got conned” — Trump’s message about farmers was, “They understand that they are doing this for the country and we will make it up to them,” according to CNN White House reporter Jeff Zeleny.

Iowa leaders know better than anyone how valuable international trade is to agricultural economies, and Trump promised during the presidential campaign to pursue policies many warned would harm U.S. producers.

There was a time not long ago when the GOP was led by common-sense conservatives, Sen. Chuck Grassley and former Gov. Terry Branstad among them. It’s difficult to understand why this once-reasonable party has fallen in line so hard with a president who has shown no regard for our interests.

There’s little evidence Trump’s protectionist policies will achieve his intended goals. Iowa’s economy should not bargaining chips in some international grudge match of Trump’s own making.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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