Branstad Gets Closer to Trump as Rastetter Considered for Ag Secretary

Former presidential candidate Chris Christie, left, speaks with Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter. Photo: IprImages/Flickr reporter Claude Brodesser-Akner broke the news yesterday: Gov. Terry Branstad and Bruce Rastetter, along with former Nebraska Gov. David Heineman, are being announced as economic policy advisers for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Rastetter, the Iowa Board of Regents president, ag executive, and GOP donor who was a key supporter of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential bid, is also a “leading candidate” for secretary of agriculture, a cabinet position, if Trump wins, according to two unnamed sources within the GOP nominee’s campaign cited by Brodesser-Akner.

The report helps explain why Branstad, who went as far as to suggest last Friday that Hillary Clinton deserved prison time for her mishandling of classified emails on a private server despite an FBI investigation that cleared her (also read our longer story on the Trump rally Branstad spoke at then), has stuck with Trump:

“There’s a clear nexus between Christie, the Branstads and Rastetter,” explained one Iowa GOP insider familiar with all three men’s dealings with one another but who was fearful of alienating the Iowa governor by speaking out publicly.

For months, to the dismay of Christie, his fellow GOP governors have kept Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at arm’s length, or even longer than that.

Branstad’s and Heineman’s loyalty “represents a case of political accounts being settled,” Brodesser-Akner reports, citing unnamed insiders. Christie helped Branstad win his comeback gubernatorial campaign in 2010 and also helped fundraise for his 2014 campaign. Rastetter, who helped convince Branstad to run for another term in the first place, has also had a long association with Christie. In 2011, he joined a group of Iowa businessmen on a flight to New Jersey to meet with Christie and try to convince him to run for president. He didn’t in 2012, but the businessmen supported him again ahead of the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses.

Rastetter’s support for Trump also appears to be bucking a trend: The New York Times reported Tuesday that donors to the presidential campaigns of Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Christie have been giving more money to Hillary Clinton than Trump.

Rastetter’s tenure as Board of Regents president has been controversial. The liberal advocacy group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement filed an ethics complaint against him in 2012 after he used his position on the board to pursue a land grab of hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in Tanzania that he stood to gain financially from (the deal ultimately fell through). He’s being sued over closed-door meetings the board held in the lead-up to the widely criticized installation of Bruce Harreld, a former IBM exec with little relevant experience, as president at the University of Iowa. And he was recently involved in another dodgy land deal, cutting Iowa State University President Steven Leath a deal on property owned by Rastetter’s ag company, Summit Farms.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.