Diving deeper into this year’s striking election results, there’s one trend that nearly all the analysts agree on, at least in hindsight. Candidates ignore rural America at their peril.
Thousands of voters across states like Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin are ready to support policymakers that demonstrate a commitment to economic strength that will deliver jobs beyond city limits, as Donald Trump promised to do. Now those same voters are looking to him to stand strong against wealthy insiders who claim to care about jobs but have spent years undercutting the core of Middle America.
If Trump hopes to keep his promise to Make (Rural) America Great Again, he will need to pursue an aggressive rural agenda to revitalize communities throughout the Rust Belt and into the heartland.
Unlike some candidates, Trump did not stop visiting the heartland after the primary season. He never minced words with his support for rural America’s needs. He understood that the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency issued regulation after regulation that decimated family farms. He recognized that most towns in middle America centered on a manufacturing facility that provided good-paying jobs for hardworking families. He argued for strong trade, tax and regulatory policies that encourage the expansion of those businesses, not the exporting of jobs to Mexico and China where labor laws and regulatory burdens buoy corporate bottom lines at the expense of American workers.
For instance, the Renewable Fuel Standard, which Trump championed from the Iowa Caucus to the General Election, helped liberate farmers from over-reliance on federal assistance, creating a stable agricultural market by giving homegrown biofuels like ethanol a chance to compete against oil. As a result, consumers benefit from more affordable choices at the pump, the United States has reduced its reliance on foreign oil, and hundreds of thousands of Americans have jobs creating clean, renewable energy.
And the recent plunge in commodity prices is evidence that the Renewable Fuel Standard has had no negative impact on the price of food for consumers. In fact, this policy will be vital to the next administration’s response to the agricultural crisis and massive grain surplus that threatens to decimate farming communities over the coming year.
Trump has a difficult challenge ahead. He must capitalize on the expertise of Washington veterans without allowing establishment voices to drown out the voice of rural America that propelled him to office. The Renewable Fuel Standard is a perfect example, and his steadfast support promises to win him enduring loyalty from a population of voters who have too often been neglected by career politicians.
It’s a challenge that Trump is uniquely suited to overcome. Unlike some, he is not beholden to anyone except the American people. He doesn’t need financial backing from any wealthy donors or oil moguls. For many voters, that freedom to do the right thing was Trump’s most appealing quality.
I saw this side of Donald Trump over two years ago when my daughter Sarah and I visited with him at his Trump Tower office — a year before either of us would enter the 2016 presidential field. He wanted to talk about my book “Blue Collar Conservatives” and its message that the great middle of America had been hollowed out by policies that abandoned hardworking American families. He was as passionate as I was that we needed to help the heartland.
I have no doubt that is why Trump focused his campaign on the importance of energy security, U.S. jobs, and a revitalized rural, blue-collar economy. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill should take note of the new majority forged by Trump, demonstrate to the voters that they are listening, and reaffirm their commitment to mobilizing our nation’s vast agricultural resources to ensure prosperity from coast to coast.
Repealing the multitude of roadblocks thrown up by the EPA, a comprehensive energy and Made-in-the-USA manufacturing policy, and a strong Renewable Fuel Standard must be at the heart of Trump’s Rural Agenda. Voters from Pennsylvania to Iowa delivered for Trump. Now it is time for Trump and the new-Republican majorities to deliver “Big League” for rural America.