JOHNSTON, Iowa — Donald Trump is being Donald Trump and, for the most part, Mike Johanns is fine with that.
Trump wasn’t the first choice for the former GOP Nebraska governor and U.S. senator, but Johanns sees him delivering on some basic Republican principles.
“If you’re a Republican and you have argued for years we need less regulation, less government, Donald Trump is delivering on that,” Johanns said Monday. “There’s no question about it, he is changing the world in that regard.”
Trump has endorsed tax plans “that make more sense,” Johanns said while in Iowa for the World Food Prize Iowa Hunger Summit. Trump is putting people on the federal courts who represent a more conservative view of government — “less government, more personal responsibility.”
Johanns, 67, admitted he reads all the “flutter” about what the president posted on social media and “all I can say is that’s Donald Trump.”
What Johanns doesn’t know is whether voters who elected Trump in an election he believes was all about disruption will be looking for more of the same in 2020, or for something else. “Drain the swamp” is an appealing populist message, but Johanns thinks voters are going to want more.
“I really do believe that what people are looking for is ‘Why can’t you just go back to Washington and make it work?’” said Johanns, an Osage, Iowa, native who was George W. Bush’s secretary of agriculture. “If there’s a problem with Social Security and its funding, over the long-term, is going to run out of money, why aren’t we fixing it? If Medicare is supposed to run out of money, why aren’t we dealing with that?
“If we have a tax system that’s not working effectively and encouraging job creation and economic growth, why don’t we see a tax bill that’s being debated?” he said.
If voters don’t see those issues being addressed, they may look for a candidate who can demonstrate a grasp of governing and show results, Johanns speculated.
“You could have people saying, ‘I want someone who can grab ahold of this government and knows how to run it, who can make it work for me,’” he said.
He’s quick to add that doesn’t mean an incumbent such as Trump can’t make the case that “they were there and fought the right battles” to make a “very complex, enormous organization” that is the federal government work better.
However, Johanns, who backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for the 2016 GOP nomination, stopped short of endorsing a second term for Trump.
“You know I’m not political anymore,” he said.
Johanns currently is on the boards of Deere & Co., Burlington Capitol Group and the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska.