In 2016, Chris Gibbs didn’t envision himself running for Congress.
Three years later, as the U.S.-China trade war continues dealing heavy blows to American agriculture, the Ohio-based soybean farmer launched an exploratory committee for a run in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“The discourse that we have in the United States now between the parties, and in Washington in particular — someone had to stand up,” he told Yahoo Finance. “Somebody has to stand up and represent real people, and the only way I thought I could do that is as an independent voice.”
Gibbs, 61, voted for Trump in 2016 as a member of the Republican Party and served as chair of the local GOP. But he stepped down after becoming dismayed at Trump’s agricultural and trade policies and disillusioned at the direction his party was heading toward. Gibbs is currently unaffiliated and would run as an Independent.
‘The administration’s failed on China’
The U.S.-China trade war began in March 2018 and evolved into tit-for-tat tariffs between the two countries. News emerged in October 2019 that the two sides had reached a phase 1 trade deal — however, little details have been revealed ever since.
“The [Trump] administration’s failed on China, hands down,” he said. “We lost 30%, or one-third, of our soybean sales right off the bat because of the trade war, and there’s no guarantee that’s going to come back.”
Soybeans, one of the top commodities in the state of Ohio, saw a 13.3% decrease in Ohio exports from 2017 to 2018, likely as a result of the trade war and subsequent tariffs. Gibbs stressed that he “never, never” supported those tariffs.
“I agree with the problem, alright?” he said. “China is a bad actor. And then, what would you have to do? You’ve got to separate these issues — Mexico, Canada, Japan, the EU … Those are trade anomalies.”
He continued: “China is a completely separate discussion. This has never, ever been about trade with China. Trade has been a secondary or tertiary issue to this administration. This has been about intellectual property, technology transfer, artificial intelligence, and very frankly, containment of China.”
‘Populism is just not me’
Over the last few years, Gibbs has grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of efficiencies he’s seen from his former party.
“There’s just nothing getting done,” he said, adding that the GOP “moved to a populist party, ... and populism is just not me. I believe that populism is nothing more than a perennial search for a villain to slay. And there’s always a villain somewhere to slay, but it does nothing for immigration reform. It does nothing for health care. It does nothing for prescription drugs, for trade, for infrastructure. So, the things that people really care about on a daily basis, our legislators aren’t doing it. And so I declared my independence from the Republican Party.”
If Gibbs decides to run, he would be facing off against the incumbent Congressman Jim Jordan, who has been the U.S. Representative for Ohio’s 4th congressional district since 2007. Gibbs spoke critically of Jordan and referred to the Congressman’s days as a former collegiate wrestling coach.
“Congressman Jordan has treated legislation, treated governing like a wrestling match where he’s just making pins, getting points on the board, and then running to his favorite infotainment channel and explaining it,” Gibbs said. “That’s not legislative. Legislating, to me, is an art. It’s the art of building trust, of relationship building, of finding and building consensus, and hard work. It’s also the art of listening. God gave you two ears and one mouth, and you should probably use them in proportion.”
Gibbs added that Jordan has “absolutely not” done enough for farmers.
“I’m not sure that Jim Jordan has ever voted for a farm bill,” he said. “And this is part of the problem is that Congressman Jordan has hidden behind his ideology and not reached out, and his ideology is that farmers shouldn’t receive support. Mine is completely different. I believe that agriculture is a national security interest, hands down, and it should be treated that way. It should be the same third rail of American politics that Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid is. Don’t touch it. And my life’s mission from here on out is to ensure that agriculture is never, ever put front and center in a geopolitical war again, like we’ve seen now.”
Rep. Jordan’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
‘The administration is very transactional’
“The payments aren’t making it up, but the administration is very transactional,” he said. “They believe that, if I hurt you, I pay you off, shut up and go away, and that’s what we have here. That’s not it. This has ramifications way beyond these payments, because the supply chains have changed now, and we may never see those markets come back like we had them built before.”
Gibbs is one of the farmers participating in the market facilitation payment program that was implemented to help farmers offset the effects of tariffs. His last check was for $11,021.53, which he used towards his campaign. He said this is proof that China has a direct influence in U.S. elections.
“And why is that?” he said. “Because the president says all of that market facilitation payment money came from China. Well, you know what I did with my China money? I’m going to run against his Jim Jordan.”
If Gibbs gets elected to Congress, he said that one of his top priorities would be pulling back the authority of the president to use Section 232 to “punish” other countries. Section 232 is a component of the law that allows the president to apply tariffs to countries deemed a national security threat.
“Now come on, do you think Canada was a national security threat, that they deserved to be punished by putting tariffs on steel and aluminum?” he said. “And beyond that, when the president used Section 232 to apply these emergency tariffs on countries as punitive punishment, he was applying them to aluminum and steel. And those are the foundation commodities that countries need to build new plants, so it was the absolute worst policy.”
The main objective of his time in office would be restoring the balance of agriculture in the country and reshaping trade policy.
“We have to take care of these other farmers,” Gibbs said. “Farmers are a national security interest. Agriculture is a national security interest, but we have safeguards. We have safety net programs already built into the 2018 Farm Bill that are adequate… but the tariff money is completely an anomaly because this is a self-inflicted pain. So, we have to quit that. We have to get rid of all of these tariffs. … We have to get back to free trade, to trade without retaliatory tariffs. … We should never got ourselves into this situation, where we would have to pay farmers. So, we need our trade back. What farmers need is our markets back.”
Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.