I published a similar malaphor a few years ago – “It’s been a long road to hoe” https://malaphors.com/2013/04/25/its-been-a-long-road-to-hoe/, and received recently yet another similar one from Gary Kelly – “”We’re going to have a hard road to tow”. At first these might seem more like malaprops, with the word “road” substituting for “row”, but I think they are actually malaphors. “A difficult road” and “a long road” have the same meaning as the intended phrase “it’s a difficult row to hoe”, so idioms have been confused.
This malaphor was spoken by Nina Easton on a Fox News Special Report, April 18, 2016, commenting on the challenges facing tax reform. A big thanks to Jim Clees for hearing this one and passing it on!
I think this is a mash up of “hard row to hoe” and “it’s an uphill climb”, both meaning a difficult situation to deal with. The speaker may also have been thinking “road” instead of “row” and perhaps meant to say a “hard road ahead” or a “rocky road”, again meaning a challenging situation. Farmers sometimes do terrace farming on hill sides, so the speaker may have been thinking rows to hoe uphill. Who knows what lurks in the mind of the malaphor speaker?