by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
There’s no good argument for continuing government ethanol subsidies, except for the fact that those subsidies benefit some farmers in a key presidential election state. But Eliana Johnson and Brendan Bordelon of National Review Online report that this week’s Iowa caucuses might have had an impact on traditional electoral calculus.
In a highly unusual move for a man who sought, and ultimately won, the support of Iowa caucus-goers, Cruz didn’t court, kowtow to, or bow down before King Corn. From the time they arrived in the Senate eyeing a presidential run three years ago, he and his advisers have known that his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires gasoline to contain a minimum level of ethanol, would cause him headaches in Iowa. But as early as the state’s agricultural summit last May, he signaled that he would play to win the state on his own terms.
How did he pull it off? Yes, the Republican party has grown less tolerant of crony capitalism and government subsidies in the Obama era. And, yes, only a fraction of Republican voters in Iowa turn out to caucus — a generally quite conservative fraction at that. So Cruz knew that there was a limit to how much harm he could do himself by writing the issue off.
“If ethanol was your issue — if you’re essentially saying it is more important to consider my taxpayer-funded gravy train than it is to limit the size and scope of government, create economic growth, nominate a candidate who has moral character, who might inspire the country . . . if that’s what you were voting on, you were never going to vote for Ted Cruz,” says Steve Deace, the Iowa-based talk-radio host who endorsed Cruz early on.
But if Cruz wrote off the ethanol lobby, and he did — “We asked him to fill out our questionnaire, we invited him multiple times to visit plants, we tried working with his campaign, and really they did not communicate back,” says Eric Branstad, the president of America’s Renewable Future and the son of long-time Iowa governor Terry Branstad — he also managed to change the subject and promise Iowans something no other candidate would. With the help of a few key allies and a host of research, he began to tell the state’s voters about another arbitrary government regulation that was holding the ethanol industry back: the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) so-called “blend wall.” And he swore he’d do away with it if elected.