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Iowa Farmer Says He's Disenchanted With President Trump


We've been talking about how exceptional these caucuses are - happening tonight. For starters, there have never been so many candidates to choose from, at least on the Democratic side. And there have never - there has never been an incumbent quite as divisive as President Donald Trump.


Yeah. And all that seems to be making things even more unpredictable here than usual, I'd say.

MARTIN: Right. And to illustrate that I want to introduce you to Rob Ewoldt. I met him while driving around the eastern part of the state with editor Dalia Mortada, producer Taylor Haney. Ewoldt is a Republican who says he is so disappointed in Trump he might caucus tonight for a Democrat. And to understand why Rob has been so disenchanted with the president, it is helpful to understand where he comes from.

ROB EWOLDT: Yeah, my parents, they bought this in 1970. It was just bare grass in our pasture. And...

MARTIN: I got to go to Rob's farm just outside Davenport. It was just gorgeous. Ten acres, pastures, rolling hills - all of it covered with snow. It's where they keep some horses and some cows, a couple of silos of corn before they ship it to their buyers. He runs a bigger thousand-acre farm not far away from where he grows corn and soybeans. His crops have been strong in recent years, but prices are not.

EWOLDT: Right now beans are break-even at best to raise. We're not buying any new equipment. We're in survival mode.

GREENE: Why has it gotten to this point?

MARTIN: They don't have enough places to sell their beans. I mean, some of that has to do with the U.S. trade war with China. China is the biggest importer of American soybeans. And those sales dropped dramatically - 75 percent% that drop was in 2018. And Rob thought it was going to be temporary.

EWOLDT: Me, personally, I was looking at - this as a short-term deal. And I'm not going to pick China over the U.S., so I'm like, yeah, let's even this stuff out.

GREENE: So it sounds like he's, like, willing to take the hit here.

MARTIN: Right. But he's not just taking the hit on soybeans; even more, it's Rob's corn production that's suffering. He is a Republican, and he generally votes that way, and he voted for Donald Trump in 2016. But last fall, the president did something that Rob cannot get over.

EWOLDT: I was mad, and I'm still pretty upset about it.

MARTIN: He's talking about a move by the Trump administration last fall. The EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, granted these exemptions to dozens of oil producers so they don't have to mix ethanol into gasoline. Ethanol is a biofuel. It's made of corn. And by mixing it in, it's supposed to make gas more environmentally friendly, right? But because of those waivers, oil refineries stopped buying ethanol.

GREENE: Oh, and that meant that they no longer needed to buy corn from Rob.

MARTIN: Right. Exactly.

EWOLDT: We're not asking for a whole lot. But when we were already getting knocked down from trade, the least the administration could have done was prop us up there and give us something that's going to go year after year, you know.

GREENE: It sounds like, I mean, all this stuff is working against him.

MARTIN: Right. It's unpredictable - weather patterns, which are even more unpredictable now because of climate change. There's also trade policy. Politics plays into all of it. And honestly, Rob is worried that things will get so hard his boys won't be able to take over the family farm and make a living. And here's a bit where I get to play cute tape of his 11-year-old Isaac taking care of his horses.

ISAAC: Hi, Maisy.

EWOLDT: Isaac, can you take the rap down and put it in the barn please?

ISAAC: Yeah, after I get this hay out of my neck.

MARTIN: They're just doing chores around the farm. And clearly, Rob is so in his element. He's on his farm, working with his son. But because things have been so tough financially, he can't be here all the time anymore. He's had to take a part-time job driving semitrucks.

EWOLDT: You know what? I don't mind doing it. It's something that the boys - what's that? You mind it?

ISAAC: Yeah. You're always gone.

EWOLDT: You know, it does cut into a little bit on family time and stuff. I have some different hours. But you understand why we have to do it, right?

ISAAC: Yeah.

EWOLDT: So that's the big thing, that they understand. And I'm not - you know, I'm pretty proud, and I don't want to have to ask for anything. So we make sacrifices.

GREENE: That's really heartbreaking to hear.

MARTIN: Right. It is. And it's shaping his political choices. Here is what he thinks about the Democratic contenders.

EWOLDT: Some of these just are too extreme for me. There's - I don't know where money comes from for some of the projects. It just blows my mind.

MARTIN: Joe Biden - not moderate enough for you?

EWOLDT: Joe Biden - I don't trust him. You know, with what's going on right now with the impeachment, I think Trump got caught and maybe Biden didn't. That's just the way I look at it.

MARTIN: And you trust Donald Trump?

EWOLDT: I didn't say that, either. I didn't say that, either. And I didn't say that I was voting for him. Right now maybe I leave the top box empty, to be honest with you, because my family and I are in a worse position now than we were four years ago. So it's very difficult to say, yeah, you got my vote.

GREENE: So he says he's probably not going to vote for the president. I mean, is there any other candidate out there he would go for?

MARTIN: You know, he likes Amy Klobuchar. He says she understands agriculture and has, quote, "good Midwestern values." And yes, he says he might show up at the caucuses tonight but mainly to watch the spectacle. But this is the kind of disaffected Republican that the Democratic Party, those Democratic candidates are trying to woo.

GREENE: Yeah. And I mean, one thing you and I have learned here in Iowa is that when people go in tonight, I mean, the results can be really unpredictable.

MARTIN: Right.

GREENE: People talk things out. And who knows?

MARTIN: Right. And it's been - we've heard stories about how many people have not yet made up their minds.


MARTIN: And so things could change once people get in the room tonight at the caucuses. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.