Trump just handed voters another reason to vote for Democrats in some of 2018's most important races.
President Trump's escalating trade war with China is poised to roil key economic sectors of numerous 2018 political battleground states, where Republican incumbents already are facing a Democratic surge.
On Wednesday, China announced tariffs worth $50 billion in retaliation against Trump's just-imposed tariffs on Chinese steel, aluminum and high-tech goods. The Chinese will impose a 25 percent tariff on 106 U.S. products including soybeans, cars and chemicals, it announced. It will also target U.S. corn, cotton, beef, orange juice, whiskey, tobacco, and several lubricants and plastic products.
Beyond the boasts by White House National Trade Council director Peter Navarro on Fox Business on March 2 that no country would dare retaliate "for the simple reason that we are the most lucrative and biggest market in the world," the Chinese tariffs are not just going to hurt the economies of Trump-won battleground states; they are poised to strike states with some of 2018's most contested House and gubernatorial races.
The impact on Trump-won states was noted by the National Review's Jim Geraghty in his Wednesday "Morning Jolt" column. He focuses on the fact that Trump is undermining his political base, but the tariff war will impact many states that are battlegrounds in 2018. Take Pennsylvania, where court-ordered redistricting has imposed a new congressional map where Democrats are poised to pick up three to six seats. They need 24 to regain the House majority.
Geraghty, a Republican, wrote, "Here's how the tariff conflict is playing the Trump-won state of Pennsylvania... 'China is a top-five market for Pennsylvania's producers,' said William Nichols, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. 'The agriculture community is concerned about trade and the direction of the nation's trade policy, and this week's news of retaliatory tariffs on American goods being traded with China is further cause for alarm.'" Pennsylvania exports $413 million a year in agricultural and related products to China.
Then there's the impact in Wisconsin, where Democrats on Tuesday won a seat on the state Supreme Court, alarming the GOP and causing Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is up for re-election, to send out a series of panicky tweets about the coming blue voter wave. Wisconsin is where 95 percent of the American production of ginseng is based, which was hit with a tariff starting Monday.
There's also an open-seat governor's race in Michigan, the battleground state where Trump beat Clinton by 11,000 votes, which has a large hog and soybean industry -- as do other Trump-won states.
"The timing of this to affect our markets is at a bad time," Bob Dykuis, of Dykuis Farms, told the National Review. "When about 25 percent of the product is exported, you kind of live and die by that as far as your markets. The Chinese announcement has affected the last couple of days dramatically on the futures."
When you compare the locations of industries facing new tariffs with 2018's battleground House districts, as tallied by Ballotpedia, you see states like California, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Michigan and Iowa with competitive races where a trade war cannot possibly help Republican incumbents. Ballotpedia counts six such competitive seats in California, and one each in those other four states.
Here again, take Trump-won Nebraska. "We want to sell more products to China not less," Nebraska Pork Producer Association Executive Director Al Juhnke told local television. "If it goes on long term, it's going to affect our rural economies here in Nebraska and the upper Midwest," Juhnke said.
A prolonged trade war could put the wider agricultural economy in a tailspin, because, for example, livestock like hogs consume other tariff-targeted grains like soybeans. There's no way that the ripple of effects of toying with regional livelihoods is not going to be a factor in 2018's most competitive elections.
Whether incumbent governors and congresspeople seeking re-election, or GOP candidates running in open seats, it is becoming harder and harder for Republicans to distance themselves from Trump's ill-conceived policies.