Terry Branstad must have regrets. Who could blame him?
He, like most Iowans, got conned.
Branstad's decision in 2017 to leave Iowa's governership and become President Donald Trump's ambassador to China was hailed as an empowering moment for Iowa. So, too, was Iowa GOP's sweeping embrace of Trump after he locked up the party's nomination in 2016.
Proximity is power, state Republicans argued, especially when Trump is involved. And yet, the past two years have seen Iowa's most sacred of cows — the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) — repeatedly come under attack by the administration.
And, on Wednesday, soybean futures plunged amid news that China would impose a 25 percent retaliatory tariff on the key commodity. Iowa ranks behind only Illinois in soybean exports. It's a $3 billion industry in Iowa. It came on the heels of a Chinese crackdown on pork days earlier, all initiated by an American president with a juvenile need to prove his manhood.
Iowans were promised Trump had their backs. State party officials swore that the billionaire from New York City, a man whose fortune was built by stiffing the little guy, would look out for Iowa farmers. They assured Iowans that their votes in the U.S. Senate, which sent Big Oil sycophants to cabinet positions at the Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department, wouldn't haunt their home state. They promised that Iowa's interests would be protected if it played ball with Trump.
The rhetoric about Trump's alleged commitment to the Midwest was never believable, and the weird deification of him by Iowa party officials was disturbing from the outset. On Wednesday, the benefits promised to disciples of Trump's cult of personality were proven completely bunk.
Soybean producers rightly panicked when China announced the tariffs. Thing is, China's decision wasn't a surprise. Its officials had said for weeks that soybeans were atop the list, should Trump continue ramping up his trade war. First, they responded with relatively mild duties on pork and steel in response to tariffs Trump announced this past month. Perpetually unwilling to be out-bullied, Trump responded by announcing a plan to impose another $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports.
Wednesday's announcement wasn't merely unsurprising. It was expected. Even Chinese officials thought Trump might back down if his base was directly targeted.
Nope. Trump reacted Thursday in the only way he knows how — with another proposed $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports.
This, folks, has all the makings of a trade war.
Eight of the country's top 10 soybean producers voted for Trump in 2016. Poor Illinois didn't vote for this rank protectionism that could only go badly. Iowa and Missouri did.
So did Michigan, which will get hammered by China's new tariffs on vehicles. So did Wisconsin, where cranberries are almost sure to be left to rot because of China's reaction to the American president's impulsive policy decrees.
In each instance, voters were promised that holding their noses and voting for Trump meant influence in Washington. In each instance, lawmakers were given a pass for ignoring the rampant corruption that's infested the Trump administration, this week highlighted by chief grifter and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. In each instance, millions of Americans were duped.
And then, there's Branstad — the nation's longest serving governor who represented a state with outsized political influence. He accepted perhaps one of the toughest diplomatic assignments on the planet because he believed it would protect his home state. The North Korea problem hasn't evaporated and likely won't anytime soon, especially because Trump's new National Security Adviser John Bolton has been a proponent of preemptive strikes. But trade — especially with Iowa and other Midwestern states fooled by Trump's bombast — was motivation enough for Branstad to stroke a long-time-friend-turned dictator, Xi Jinping.
But no relationship with China's autocrat can soothe the the brewing trade war, one stoked by Trump's White House.
Branstad moved to China to safeguard Iowa's economic interests. But he might return a member of the administration that burned those very interests to the ground.