Signs show the hopes Donald Trump expressed for winning the Iowa Republican presidential precinct caucuses during this campaign stop at the University of Iowa Field House on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. Credit: Danielle Wilde/IowaWatch

Gov. Terry Branstad says Iowa is getting a good deal with China despite presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump wanting to declare China a currency manipulator and negotiate a new trade deal with the country that benefits the United States.

“I know that Donald Trump thinks that the United States has not been very smart and not done a very good job in negotiating the trade deals and I’m sure that we can improve on that. But, that should not mean that we reduce trade. We ought to be looking at ways we can get a better deal and that we could increase our exports,” Branstad said in an IowaWatch interview.

Gov. Terry Branstad spoke with IowaWatch summer intern reporters Brittany Robb and Thomas Nelson on July 7, 2016.
Gov. Terry Branstad spoke with IowaWatch summer intern reporters Brittany Robb and Thomas Nelson on July 7, 2016. Credit: Jiangqi Guo/IowaWatch

“What Trump was saying is, we need to do better when it comes to trade deals,” Branstad said. “I think that’s constructive criticism.”

Branstad has a long relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, dating to 1985 when Xi visited Iowa while an official of the Hebei province and leader of an animal feed association delegation.

Since then Iowa, projected to be a swing state in the 2016 presidential election and host of the nation’s first presidential nomination precinct caucuses, has developed a sister state relationship with Hebei province and a trade relationship with China. Iowa is China’s third largest export market and China is Iowa’s third largest importer among the world’s nations. From 2012 through 2015 Iowa exported $3.5 billion worth of goods to China and China imported $5.5 billion worth of goods to Iowa.

“The president of China calls me an old friend, because we met here in this office in 1985,” Branstad said.

Building a relationship with China is integral for the next president and he is willing to work with whoever that is, Branstad said.

“As much as I support our relationship with China and the markets, there also needs to be not only free trade, but it also needs to be fair,” he said.

Steffen Schmidt
Steffen Schmidt

Steffen Schmidt, professor of political science at Iowa State University, said Branstad and other Republicans are in a hard place when it comes to supporting Trump.

“How the hell does Branstad, whose office is filled with his memorabilia from China and Iowa’s trade deals put up with Trump?” Schmidt wrote in an email to IowaWatch.

“It is hard to accept that serious and centered leaders like Branstad are willing to associate themselves with someone as controversial as Trump. After all, many Republican leaders and stalwarts such as George Will have decided to walk away from Trump and even the party.”

Branstad announced his support for Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee on May 9, after Trump won the Indiana primary on May 4.

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“He’s the nominee of the Republican Party and I believe that we need a change in leadership. I believe that this president has underestimated the threat of Islamic militants and the results has been we live in a very dangerous world,” Branstad said in the IowaWatch interview.

Given the choice, Branstad said, he prefers Trump to presumptive Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton. “Hillary Clinton is a liar she can’t be trusted. She has consistently put out false information and been reckless with our national security,” he said.

“I think the kind of people that Donald Trump would appoint to the Supreme Court, he has mentioned 11 different prospects, one of which is an Iowa,” Branstad said. “Love to have an Iowan on the Supreme Court.”

Steven Colloton, an Iowa City native on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, is on a list of Trump’s potential nominees for the Supreme Court if elected president.

“Branstad has been fairly clear on the fact that he’s a team player,” said Mack Shelley, a professor and department chair of political science at Iowa State University.

Mack Shelley
Mack Shelley

Shelley said not supporting the party’s nominee would be political suicide. “I guess he feels among other sentiments that it would hurt his party and hurt his candidates down the ballot, if he’s not showing some degree of enthusiasm for Trump,” Shelley said.

“Anything that Branstad might get as a statement or concession or something out of Trump, I really don’t think it’s worth anything,” Shelley said. “This provides a really awkward straddle on Branstad’s part, having a strongly articulate sense of personal integrity and then having to endorse willfully or not the Republican presidential candidate who seems to exude the exact opposite.”

Trump’s rhetoric has included personal insults of his former Republican Party presidential nomination opponents and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, among other reporters; perceived mockery of a New York Times reporter who has cerebral palsy; claims that an American judge with Mexican heritage was biased against him because of that heritage and numerous other comments that have prompted Republican Party leaders to call on him to stick to script when speaking publicly.

Branstad said, “I don’t agree with some of the things he’s done, but he does represent a frustration that a lot of Americans have with a system they feel is rigged, that’s unfair, that’s basically controlled by the D.C. establishment of both parties.”

“A lot of people feel that we need stronger leadership that’s got the courage to not be politically correct and tell it like it is,” Branstad said. “It’s not just Trump, I think a lot of people were attracted to Bernie Sanders for the same reason.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shouts to a protester during a Jan. 26, 2016, campaign stop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shouts to a protester during a Jan. 26, 2016, campaign stop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Credit: Danielle Wilde/IowaWatch file photo

Another area that they have differed is Branstad has released his tax returns yearly while in public office, while Trump has refused to do. “That’s just been my personal decision, some people do some people don’t,” Branstad said about public officials releasing their tax records. “I understand that Mr. Trump said that because he’s being audited he’s not going to be releasing it.”

Trump’s tax returns are being audited from 2009 and forward, according to the letter released by his campaign in March. He said during a February debate and subsequent interviews he won’t release his returns because he is being audited. He has the option to release his returns, but Trump has said that he will wait until his federal audit is done.

David Redlawsk, professor of political science at Rutgers University said, “Trump is flying the face of that standard by refusing to release his (returns).”

Parties leaders are used to supporting candidates who aren’t everything that they want them to be, Redlawsk, formerly a University of Iowa professor of political science who has been active in Democratic Party politics and one of the authors of the book “The Positive Case For Negative Campaigning,” said.

The reason, Redlawsk said: “Because there’s probably no candidate who is perfect.”

Branstad is the longest serving governor in U.S. history. Also, Iowa hosts the nations first presidential precinct caucuses, which start the presidential nomination process.

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