Democrats and the 2018 Farm Bill

January, 2018

Washington -- For some reason, I have wound up with a collection of crystal balls that are remarkably good when it comes to predicting big elections. They predicted that Clinton would lose to Trump, two months before the actual election; they picked Doug Jones over Roy Moore, too.

So I have consulted them again to see what they're saying for the presidential election in 2020.

Right now, it looks like another Trump victory if certain things fall into place. He must hold his overall voter support level around thirty-some percent, foment an international crisis of some sort about a month prior to the election, and make sure he carries the rural areas that Democrats abandoned in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin in 2016, so as to win in those states once again. With that strategy, even some other states he narrowly lost in 2016 might be in play.

Which made this article in Politico a worthwhile read, because it, like the crystal balls, suggests Democrats may well be on track to hand Trump another victory in 2020.

Not only are Democrats squabbling about whether the rural vote is even worth pursuing, they are focusing on abortion, guns, and other issues that are exactly the wrong ones if they want to tip these states back into the Democratic column. Yes, some voters could be brought back with a Big Tent strategy as implied in the new Bustos Report and described in the Politico article.

But (and here is where I disagree with the thrust of the article) these are not big issues with rural voters who saw fit to vote for Obama in 2008 and 2012, then switched to Trump in 2016 because the Democratic Party abandoned them as rural America collapsed. These rural Obama voters can be switched back with with a strong effort by national Democrats on rural issues; these are the voters Democrats need to bring swing states in the heartland back into the Democratic column.

That means a big Democratic effort on the 2018 Farm Bill, but try as I might to find mention of it in any of the ballyhoo about the Democrats' "Better Deal," I can't.* Nor does the Bustos Report actually say much about the Farm Bill and its relevance to rural America.

It's not as though the Trump Republicans haven't given the Democrats a huge opportunity by fumbling most every rural issue they've touched:

• Corn, wheat, and soybean markets may never recover from Trump's stance on NAFTA and TPP;

• U.S. livestock production may forever be changed for the worse by Trump's repeal of GIPSA rules, which family farmers had worked years to achieve;

• The rural health crisis, including opioid addictions, is not being addressed due to chaos in the White House drug policy office;

• Trump's budgets have slashed funding for Farm Bill programs indiscriminately, including agriculture research and extension programs and rural development.

The multiple fumbles are just waiting to be picked up and run with, but so far Democrats seem oblivious to them.

The Republican strategy is to distract the Democrats away from these fumbles by making work requirements for food stamps the issue in the Farm Bill, so as to make it appear that all Democrats care about are urban consituencies. It may work; it is being tested successfully as a strategy in Republican gatherings where farm policy "experts" are shaping the issues. Will Democrats fall for it? My crystal ball collection is predicting they will.

* It's not too late to revise it, call it a "Decent Deal" (which it should have been called in the first place to stress the idea of decency) and add a strong rural America component.