Commentary: Trump did little to address North Dakota's trade fears

Politically, President Donald Trump did a lot of damage to incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., during his campaign rally in Fargo. After weeks of Heitkamp and her campaign working overtime to align with Trump, the president himself rained on t...

Politically, President Donald Trump did a lot of damage to incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., during his campaign rally in Fargo.

After weeks of Heitkamp and her campaign working overtime to align with Trump, the president himself rained on the parade.

During a CNN interview after the event, a rattled Heitkamp managed to bungle her party affiliation. "I just think that you have to be who you are," she told the interviewer. "At the end of the day, I'm an FDR Republican."

I suppose we can forgive the flub. She's been working to distance herself from her political party's brand this election cycle. Still, the slip was a telling one.

But while Trump no doubt helped the cause of Heitkamp's opponent, Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer, in terms of policy he did little to ease what is probably the most angst-driving issue in our region.

I think a lot of North Dakotans wanted the president to ease their fears about the potential for trade wars. Democrats, including Heitkamp and her media allies, have been fanning those flames for weeks now. I think voters would have liked a rebuttal from Trump.

What they got was a lot of braggadocio about how things are working out for the steel industry. Trump's policies have driven up the price of steel and aluminum, and while that's great for domestic companies which produce those products, it's less good for North Dakota's industries.

I've had calls and emails to my radio show from folks who work in manufacturing in the state saying their cost of metal supplies have gone up by double-digit percentages. How do you suppose those folks felt hearing Trump champion higher steel prices?

Farmers and oil companies buy a lot of equipment that's made out of steel. Prices for that equipment are going up, and Trump was in Fargo all but taking credit for it.

It was more than a little tone deaf.

The president was talking up an aspect of his trade policies, which are actually detrimental to our state's economy.

Meanwhile, new sales tax data indicates that trade relations with Canada may be a very large issue for our state.

Taxable sales and purchases in Grand Forks, a popular destination from Canadians coming down from the Winnipeg area, was down 15.17 percent in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same period last year.

Drilling down a bit, the data showed a more than 21 percent decline for retail trade, specifically.

There are always a lot of variables behind these numbers, and a big one is the strong U.S. dollar deterring Canadian trade.

Still, the decline illustrates just how much North Dakota's economy is tied to Canadian commerce, which in turn shows the risks around Trump's dealings - at times belligerent - with our northern neighbors.

Trump should have addressed that. He should have addressed the risks for agriculture, too.

He didn't, and that's a shame.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort