How We Elect the President Makes Farmers an Easy Target in a Trade War

“Retaliatory tariffs on goods like soybeans, pork, and beef have hit farmers' bottom lines in key electoral states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio and Iowa,”

As reported in today’s Wall Street Journal, the White House announced a major effort to support farmers hurt by the president’s trade war:

“The Trump administration said it would extend $12 billion in emergency aid to farmer amid signs the U.S. agricultural sector is beginning to feel the impact of President Donald Trump’s escalating trade disputes with major U.S. trading partners.

The administration admits that this fix isn’t meant for the long haul. “This is a short-term solution that will give President Trump and his administration time to work on long-term trade deals,” the piece quotes Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue as saying.

Consider this long-term solution to better protect farmers: fixing the way we choose the president. The rules now make it far too easy for trading adversaries to make the pain of their retaliatory tariffs felt in the states that matter to presidents’ reelection chances.

In our current system, it’s easy for foreign competitors to pressure presidents during a trade dispute. Battleground states determine the balance in the Electoral College, and that’s why we’re seeing tariffs targeted at products made in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, and Iowa—all battleground states.

Why attack voters in swing states? Because currently those voters alone have it in their power to swing the election to a different candidate in 2020. Only a few thousand votes in those states control the precious electoral votes candidates currently rely on to win, whereas voters in red and blue states are powerless because who wins the plurality in those states is predicable.

Why are these battleground states specifically targets? They vary in size but have a combined 69 electoral votes, more than enough to call a winner in the next election The only small battleground state, New Hampshire, has only 3 votes, not enough to make a difference.  The largest battleground state, Florida, and medium-sized Michigan might have a harder time avoiding trade threats in different industries.

A national popular vote, on the other hand, would remove the incentive for any nation to punish industries in swing states. Actual voters, rather than a battleground state, would decide the winner of a national election, so candidates would rely on support in every state. The side effects of a trade war would then spread more evenly across the country rather with such painful precision.

The President in fact has discussed his preference for this change twice, first on 60 Minutes, later on Fox & Friends.