American farmers are increasingly concerned about President Trump’s trade policies chipping away at their livelihoods, as markets begin to shrink and politicians place the possibility of subsidy expansions on the table.
Trump has enjoyed the support or rural America, but it seems unlikely that farmers will take well to the president’s idea that they should be willing to sacrifice their well-being for the sake of his trade policies.
From his dairy farm in southeastern Nebraska, lifelong Republican Ben Steffen believed Donald Trump meant what he said on the campaign trail about ripping up U.S. trade agreements.
While he’s not surprised by Trump’s trade policies, he is alarmed by the potential harm to his business and farmers on the whole:
"This kind of chaotic volatility in our trading relationships damages the market," Steffen, who runs the farm with his wife, his sister and four full-time employees, said in a telephone interview with NBC News. "The market responds and the prices are erratic and that’s destabilizing for people out here on the bottom end producing feed and food."
Now Steffen, who didn't vote for Trump, is a vocal supporter of Jane Raybould, the Democrat running an improbable campaign against first-term Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. — and says he's talked to a lot of fellow farmers and Republicans who have "buyer's remorse" about Trump and Fischer.
Steffen is far from alone – farmers in communities all across the U.S. are fearful of where Trump’s policies on trade could lead:
[I]n rural areas across the country that are imperiled by disruptions in U.S. relations with China, Mexico, Canada and other trading partners, Republicans are facing a potential backlash from voters who are afraid that his tack on trade will hurt their bottom lines.
"The president’s actions are going to be harmful to Republican candidates in the fall if remedial action is not taken," said former Sen. Dick Lugar, a Republican who represented Indiana for 36 years.
Trump raised the possibility of expanding agricultural subsidies, but Republican lawmakers don’t believe their constituents will be impressed with such a move:
"We did market-loss adjustment programs in the late 1990s and it was a huge cost, which the taxpayers are not going to like, and which farmers are not going to like either because they don’t want another income support program," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "They want a market."
Thune added that there's "no appetite" for subsidies among Senate Republicans.
But Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, is willing to look to subsidies as a short-term solution.
"What I don't want is a return to some sort of direct payment culture, because our farmers don't want a direct payment culture," Cramer said. "They like the crop insurance safety net. So in terms of it being a long-term policy, I would certainly be concerned about it."
In the end, Trump's policies seem to be making the situation more difficult for both farmers and their representatives.