Donald Trump kicked off a weeklong European trip on Wednesday by immediately ruffling the feathers of NATO allies over breakfast. Back home, Mike Pence is trying to smooth things over in the Midwest.
The vice president will travel this week to Kansas City, Cedar Rapids, and Chicago for a trio of fundraisers for vulnerable House Republicans: Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, Rep. Rod Blum of Iowa, and Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois. All three incumbents represent districts Hillary Clinton won two years ago and each sits high atop House Democrats’ November wish list. Blum and Roksam are considered especially vulnerable, and each is facing a Democratic challenger who has posted strong fundraising numbers to date: Abby Finkenauer in Iowa’s 1st District and Sean Casten in Illinois’ 6th. (The Kansas primary isn’t until August.)
The GOP has made Pence central to its midterm campaign strategy, particularly its effort to keep control of the House in a year when two-dozen or so Republican incumbents are running for reelection in districts that went for Clinton over Trump. And while Pence has not yet proved adept at pushing his preferred candidates over the finish line, few doubt his ability to appeal to the party’s donor class, a significant slice of which likes to be reassured now and again that there is at least some method to the madness in the Oval Office. Pence’s ability to do damage control will again be put to the test during his trip to the heartland.
According to Politico, in addition to the private fundraisers and a few public events with a pro-Trump group, Pence plans to meet one-on-one with “major Midwestern donors” in hopes of allaying their concerns about Trump’s escalating trade war with China.
Iowa Republicans are so worried about the long-term impact of the tariffs on their state’s soybean and pork production that they’ve gone public with those concerns, a rare break with a president who is immensely popular with the party’s base. In a joint letter to Trump late last month, Blum and the rest of the state’s predominantly Republican delegation declared that the tariffs will be “catastrophic” to the Iowa economy and urged the president to “act expeditiously to save our rural economies.”
It’s unclear exactly what Pence can say to put GOP donors in the region at ease about a trade war that has only ramped up this month, though one possibility would be to detail the administration’s so far intentionally vague promise to eventually “support producers” hurt by the tariffs. More likely, Pence will simply remind the wealthy donors of all the other things this administration has already done that they do like, including the GOP tax cuts and this week’s appointment of Brett Kavanaugh.