Terry Branstad's warning about Ted Cruz may backfire in the Iowa caucuses

Governor Terry Branstad has long said he did not plan to endorse a presidential candidate before the Iowa caucuses. But speaking to journalists this morning at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit in Altoona, Branstad said “it would be very damaging to our state” if Ted Cruz wins the caucuses.

The governor’s anti-endorsement could help Cruz more than it hurts him.

WHO-TV’s Dave Price reported today,

“Yes,” Branstad told Channel 13 News Tuesday morning when asked if he wants Cruz, who is currently leading the Iowa polls, to lose. […]

“I think it would be very damaging to our state,” Iowa’s governor said of a Cruz victory on caucus night.

Branstad’s son, Eric, has led a bipartisan group of renewable fuels supporters, who have held news conferences, run radio ads and confronted Cruz at events across the state. Renewable fuels supporters believe Cruz’s previous opposition to renewable energy supporters, along with his financial backing from oil interests in his home state Texas put his at odds with the interests of Iowa’s alternative fuel efforts.

The governor isn’t urging Iowans to caucus for any specific candidate but left no room for misunderstanding in laying out his case against Cruz today:

“Ted Cruz is ahead right now. What we’re trying to do is educate the people in the state of Iowa. He is the biggest opponent of renewable fuels. He actually introduced a bill in 2013 to immediately eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard. He’s heavily financed by Big Oil. So we think once Iowans realize that fact, they might find other things attractive but he could be very damaging to our state,” Branstad said.

Branstad added that Cruz “hasn’t supported renewable fuels, and I think it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him.”

Other speakers at the Renewable Fuels Summit echoed the message, O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa.

“Ted Cruz, who’s ahead in the polls, is diametrically opposed to what we really care about and that is growing the opportunity for renewable fuels in this country. Iowa leads the nation in ethanol, biodiesel and wind energy,” Branstad said. “He, by the way, is against the wind energy tax credit as well.”

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said if Iowa Caucus-goers choose Cruz, the ethanol mandate won’t survive. “You will kill RFS and Iowa will have their fingerprints on the weapon,” Santorum said.

Organizers, led by Eric Branstad — the governor’s oldest son, say they have gotten 50,000 Iowans who are involved in the industry to commit to Caucus. Iowa Renewable Fuels Association executive director Monte Shaw was onstage early today to make the pitch.

“The fight to defend the RFS and to create market access for consumer choice starts in Iowa on February 1,” Shaw said. “We need each and every one of you to commit to doing that.”

Branstad maintains that Cruz is “diametrically opposed to what we really care about,” but as Bleeding Heartland discussed here, I have yet to see any evidence that the ethanol mandate rises to a top-tier voting issue for large numbers of Iowa Republicans. Representative Steve King has made a compelling case for conservatives to support Cruz and has been running interference for the Texas senator on the biofuels issue, even though King’s Congressional district produces more ethanol than any other district in the country.

The latest Iowa poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg News found that 56 percent of the respondents backing Cruz “like his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Jennifer Jacobs reported last week. “Among the overall caucus electorate, a 42 percent plurality don’t like his stance, and 37 percent find it attractive.”

Although Branstad has been one of the most successful Republican politicians in Iowa history, he is far from universally beloved on the right. The latest Public Policy Polling survey in Iowa indicated that 23 percent of respondents calling themselves “somewhat conservative” and 17 percent who are “very conservative” disapprove of Branstad’s job performance.

One of them is Steve Deace, a Cruz endorser whose syndicated talk show reaches tens of thousands of politically engaged Iowa conservatives. Deace has long railed against establishment Republicans. In this June 2014 column for the Washington Times, he asserted, “the undocumented Democrat known as Republican Governor (for life) Terry Branstad, and the corporatist shills surrounding him, could be poised to put the finishing touches on a complete rout of their own base.” I expect Deace to pound on Branstad during radio broadcasts between now and February 1.

Several people with close ties to Branstad are actively supporting Chris Christie. They include Eric Branstad’s wife, top donor and influencer Bruce Rastetter, and Jeff Boeyink, who managed Branstad’s 2010 and served as his chief of staff for two and a half years.

But if Cruz’s support declines, all recent Iowa polls suggest that the winner of the caucuses will be Donald Trump. The billionaire has been bashing Cruz in recent weeks and was delighted to spread the news on Twitter about what “the highly respected Governor of Iowa” said today. In fact, Trump’s first words to the Renewable Fuels Summit audience were about Branstad’s “very strong statement” on Cruz.

Social conservative blogger Matt Walsh’s published a “final desperate plea to Christian Trump fans” today at The Blaze. Excerpts:

Indeed, many Christians have fallen for the Donald; there’s no way he could be doing well in Iowa without them. The melding of Trumpianity with Christianity has been among the more awkward and grotesque phenomenons I’ve ever witnessed in my life. […]

Should we, as Christians, elect someone whose actions and beliefs run counter to our core values? Should we elect someone who is not only godless, but represents himself as God fearing for the sake of using and manipulating us?

Again, the answers are clear. Any Christian who is serious about his faith knows, first, that man separated from God cannot be trusted. Our faith and trust should be in God alone, and we can trust another man only to the extent that he has faith in God. A man who rejects God is a man with no true strength, no identity, and no fidelity to truth. A man who rejects God is a man spinning uncontrollably in the darkness; a man who soon becomes his own golden calf, his own idol, the center of his own universe. How could any Christian possibly choose to elevate such a man to our nation’s highest office?

Second, our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and it will only be saved if it returns to those principles. That is, if it rediscovers its reverence for God, its belief in the dignity of human life, its understanding of justice and Natural Law, its respect for and recognition of Truth, etc. If our country continues to ignore and undermine these values, we will be destroyed. We may or may not retain our name and our borders, but what’s contained inside will be dead and rotten and not worthy of saving anymore. […]

We should make our politics subordinate to the Gospel, not the other way around. When we vote we should think, “Am I glorifying the Lord with this decision?”

My world view could hardly be more different from Walsh’s (and Steve King’s), but even I can see that Walsh makes a far more convincing case for what conservatives should “really care about” than Branstad does. He’s talking about core principles of our civilization. King says Cruz may be the answer to his prayers. Whereas Branstad says Cruz’s opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard would be bad for Iowa’s economy. Incidentally, Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson has shown that the ethanol industry exaggerates its impact on Iowa jobs as well as the importance of the RFS to ethanol production.

I doubt many Iowans who were seriously considering Cruz will change their minds based on Branstad’s words. Some may be more drawn to Cruz as an anti-establishment candidate.

Any comments about the Republican presidential race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Cruz laughed when asked about Branstad’s remarks today before saying,

Well, look, it is no surprise that the establishment is in full panic mode. We said from the beginning that the Washington cartel was going to panic more and more as conservatives unite behind our campaign […] Because the Washington cartel lives on cronyism. It lives on making deals. It lives on picking winners and losers and supporting corporate welfare. And cronyism. This is what people are so fed up with. It’s how we’ve gotten an 18 trillion dollar national debt. And so, it’s not surprising, and we’re gonna see even more of that, because every day what we’re seeing on the ground is the grassroots are making their decision. They’re coming together, conservatives are uniting behind our campaign. And we will see like “The Empire Strikes Back,” the establishment will strike back because they don’t want an end to the cronyism and the gravy train from Washington.

SECOND UPDATE: Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin endorsed Trump today in Ames (click here for the full text of her “bizarre” speech), but conservative media personality Glenn Beck will endorse Cruz in Iowa this weekend.

THIRD UPDATE: King’s response to Branstad’s criticism should resonate with many Iowa conservatives. O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa on January 20,

Iowa Congressman Steve King — an ethanol backer who has endorsed Cruz — said Iowa voters and Governor Branstad should appreciate that Cruz didn’t change his stand on the Renewable Fuels Standard just to win votes in Iowa. […]

“The governor should go back and do what he usually does which is due diligence, dig down into the facts of this, listen to both sides of this issue and, by the way, should embrace a future for renewable fuels beyond 2022,” King said.

That’s when the Renewable Fuels Standard is set to expire, and King said he doesn’t know anyone in congress who thinks the mandate will be extended beyond that date.

King said it is a “great disappointment” that Branstad made a “de facto endorsement” of Trump without reviewing Cruz’s ideas for expanding market access for ethanol.

WHO-TV reported the same day,

Congressman Steve King, who endorsed Cruz last month, said the governor’s statement was incorrect.

“I think it was out of character for the governor to take such a bold statement. When I listened to the statements that he made, I wish he’d been listening to someone other than his son when he was getting his information on Ted Cruz’s position Cruz’s and policy.” […]

King said Cruz has put together a policy for Iowa’s $14.5 billion gallon ethanol market to grow up to $25 billion.

“He’s for competition in the marketplace, he is for the Iowa farmer, he is for renewable fuels, he just doesn’t believe we should have subsidies or mandates and he would eliminate all subsidies for the petroleum industry and in doing so, he steps down the mandate on the RFS. I’d say take another look, Governor, go back to this and correct your statement so Iowans are dealing with facts when they go to caucus.”

Sen. Charles Grassley weighed in on the controversy as well.

He said Wednesday that he has no problem with the governor defending an important industry to our state. He also doesn’t think the governor harmed Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status.

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