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Trump makes some dubious assumptions about farmers' partisan allegiance

Donald Trump seems to realize his agenda is hurting farmers, but he assumes they won't mind. It's time to rethink those assumptions.
A tractor plows a field on February 25, 2014 in Firebaugh, California.
A tractor plows a field on February 25, 2014 in Firebaugh, California.

Earlier this year, Donald Trump spoke at American Farm Bureau's annual convention, where the president strutted like a man who assumed he was among adoring fans. "Oh, are you happy you voted for me," Trump said, straying from the prepared text on his trusted teleprompter. "You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege."

But the Republican's bond with farmers frayed in the months that followed. As Trump picked dangerous fights over trade, it's farmers who are positioned to feel the adverse consequences. The president admitted as much at a White House event last week, conceding, "I tell you, our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots. They understand that they're doing this for the country."

In other words, Trump sees farmers suffering, but he assumes they won't mind -- because they're effectively taking one for the team.

Those assumptions may be wrong. The New York Times had this report out of Casselton, North Dakota.

Stern warnings are coming from all over the Midwest about the political peril for Republicans in Mr. Trump's recent course of action, in which the tariffs he slapped on foreign competitors invited retaliatory tariffs on American agriculture. Soybeans are America's second largest export to China, and that country's proposed 25 percent duties on the crop would hit hardest in states like Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota -- where there are highly competitive House races -- as well as Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, whose Senate contests may determine control of the chamber.By proposing the tariffs, Mr. Trump has moved to fulfill a central promise of his campaign: confronting those countries he believes are undermining American industry. Yet his goal -- to revive the steel and aluminum industries, thereby aiding the Rust Belt states that were crucial to his election -- has effectively prioritized one element of the Trump political coalition over another, larger bloc of voters. That larger segment, the farm belt, is essential to Republican success in the midterm elections and beyond.

The report quoted one farmer saying, in reference to Trump, "If he doesn't understand what he's doing to the nation by doing what he's doing, he's going to be a one-term president, plain and simple."

One of the staples of Trump's presidency is that it's his own supporters who often bear the brunt of the White House's agenda. This continues to be true of farmers.

Indeed, many who work in agriculture were counting on Trump taking the TPP and its benefits seriously. On this front, he's let them down more than once -- including again this week.

I don't know if the president intends to speak to the American Farm Bureau again next year, but if he does, I don't imagine he'll brag about giving farmers the "privilege" of voting for him.