As Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach go around the state taking whacks at each other’s positions in an attempt to sway voters before the Aug. 7 Republican gubernatorial primary, it seems clear that they’ve also had time to learn a balancing act.
It’s the delicate tightrope walk that hangs between Kansans’ support for President Donald Trump and support for the state’s farmers. Many Kansans fall into both categories, which makes the walk over Trump’s tariffs all the more fascinating.
Colyer, Kobach and their primary opponents are less than four weeks from election day, and this is the lone issue in which their responses can be measured without the full fire that has been witnessed in candidate debates and forums around Kansas.
Trump’s tariffs on other countries, particularly China, have caused major tension with Kansas farmers who are seeing their wheat, soybeans, pork and beef receive similar tariffs as a trade war commences. It’s a dangerous game for Kansas agriculture.
Trump took Kansas’ six electoral votes two years ago with 56.2 percent of the ballots. He out-paced Hillary Clinton by 20 percentage points and, even after a primary loss to Ted Cruz, his support in Kansas was unwavering.
But Trump’s adamance in promoting better trade deals for the United States has come at a cost, including in Kansas, where farmers depend heavily on China and other nations to buy their products under acceptable trade terms.
The Trump administration imposed 25-percent tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese products last week; the Chinese will reciprocate, indicating higher taxes on Kansas agriculture staples will be part of the package.
This is where the political math becomes interesting.
Colyer and Kobach have made the calculation that being Trump’s wingmen on tariffs is the best play for now. Kobach says tariffs on Chinese goods will fail “if (Trump’s) own country is shooting him in the back” during negotiations. Colyer said he supports Trump in efforts for finding more fair trade agreements.
Meanwhile, Kansas farmers are studying their bottom line. They have benefited from access to world markets for their products, and any increase in tariffs will have huge impacts.
Republican candidates Ken Selzer and Jim Barnett are less nuanced in their support for Trump and a trade war. Selzer said Chinese tariffs would be “hugely damaging” to the Kansas economy.
Colyer and Kobach should sound tariff alarms just as loudly, and not just for political purposes. Two of the state’s top elected officials should leave no doubt in their support for Kansas farmers who are threatened by retaliatory tariffs.
A long-term trade war could have disastrous effects on Kansas farmers and the state’s economy. China could decide to look elsewhere for soybeans and other agricultural imports, making it difficult for farmers to return to the market fully entrenched once the trade war ends.
Governors aren’t decision makers when it comes to trade and tariffs, but they carry large megaphones and can help to sway policy that advocates for their residents. Colyer and Kobach should remember that and realize, in this case, that party loyalty shouldn’t come before the needs of so many Kansas farmers and ranchers.