He loves me.
He loves me not.
He loves me…
What the heck is going on with Ted Cruz and his stance on ethanol this week? For a year the Texas Senator has come under withering assault from Iowa’s farmers and ethanol industry for his position on the Renewable Fuel Standard. Cruz embarked on a 28-county bus tour in Iowa this week and was pressed at nearly every single event over ethanol.
The pressure appears to be getting to him. Cruz, a candidate who often highlights his consistency on conservative issues, now talks up how he would allow the RFS to expire, but over the current planned five-year time period. It’s set to expire in 2022.
America’s Renewable Future, the pro-ethanol group that’s blasted Cruz with mailers and radio ads, called it a “a big step forward,” but that he could still come further. Cruz’s campaign sharply disputed that idea, saying he sponsored legislation back in 2014 that included the phase-out as opposed to an outright, immediate repeal.
But Cruz was also a co-sponsor of a bill in 2013 explicitly called the “Renewable Fuel Standard Repeal Act.” It would have ended the mandate right then and there. And for a candidate who is very, very specific with the wording in his stump speech and media appearances, this focus on the five-year phase-out is certainly a new emphasis.
Steve King was announced as a national co-chair of Cruz’s campaign, likely as part of his bigger effort this week to play damage control on the ethanol issue (humorously, Bob Vander Plaats was named a national co-chair a few days later – one can only imagine he complained when King got to be one and he wasn’t). And Cruz submitted a lengthy defense of his position in an guest piece in the Des Moines Register.
His other newest tactic has been to claim he’s actually fighting for farmers by wanting to get rid of the “blend wall.” Right now, the federal government mandates that 10% of fuel at the pump contain ethanol. But that’s also a cap. The oil industry, when the mandate was introduced, lobbied to keep it at only 10%, arguing cars weren’t able to handle anything more than that. But today’s cars are produced to handle much higher percentage blends. So in theory taking out the “blend wall” cap would allow gas stations to take on fuel blends with more ethanol. Cruz says the market would take over and lead to more ethanol getting sold and used.
But no one in the ethanol industry really believes that. The gas stations that would sell higher blends are owned by the oil companies. Why would they cut into their own profit margins by replacing part of their product with more ethanol? So while that might sound like a nice idea to those unfamiliar with the topic – that Cruz is letting farmers’ crops get used even more in the fuel supply – the people he’s really trying to convince know better.
And it all just leads to this weird, confusing positioning by Cruz. Cruz has beat the drum against mandates and subsidies his entire campaign (even though he backs tax breaks that only help the oil industry) and has criticized the RFS as part of that. At Bruce Rastetter’s big Ag Conference back early in 2015, Cruz turned to the crowd and explicitly told them that he knows his position isn’t what they want to hear. Indeed, he’s worn his opposition to the RFS as a badge of honor to show he doesn’t pander to special interests. But now he professes to be a champion for those farmers? And is adamant that his underlying position hasn’t changed?
So does he actually support ethanol? Is he being too cute by half? What does Cruz really believe?
Cruz’s wobbling and new emphasis on the RFS is emblematic of the biggest criticism his Republican rivals throw at him: that he’s an opportunistic politician who’s not nearly as principled as he professes. And this entire ordeal could fit into the theme of Cruz phrasing everything ever so carefully that he can appeal to multiple sides and come out looking like a conservative hero.
Regardless of what Cruz hopes to accomplish with his newest campaign trail talking points, it looks like the ethanol issue will continue to dog him throughout the last three weeks of the Iowa Caucus.
Frustrated man tells Cruz farmers don't like his position on RFS/ethanol (1/4) pic.twitter.com/LjfTkcqgcU
— Vaughn Hillyard (@VaughnHillyard) January 8, 2016
by Pat Rynard