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Political Mercury

Why Trump is better than Cruz for rural Iowa

1/20/2016

The Iowa caucuses give the rural Midwest — not just Iowa, but a sweep of the Northern Plains — leverage.

And unlike oil-slicked Texans, we are up front with how we use it. We don’t seek to bury sweetheart deals in the catacombs of the tax code or 500-page legislative packages.

We know having strong markets for grain leads to improved lives in the small towns of Iowa’s 99 counties. So we press White House candidates on the Renewable Fuel Standard. It’s the one collective place Iowans use our place-in-line leverage, never for a minute disguising our motivations.

Donald Trump respects that leverage, understands that we are employing it not for some cash-in, cash-out, start-up play, some clever short of the markets. We’re after quality-of-life maintenance in small-town Iowa.

Trump’s visited a biorefinery. He’s talked to folks at the revolutionary intersection of agriculture and energy. Trump quickly and unequivocally answers questions about the Renewable Fuel Standard.

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There’s no abstract art to reading Iowa’s deal with Trump on the Renewable Fuel Standard. He’s coloring inside the lines.

Then there’s hidebound Ted Cruz. Kill the Renewable Fuel Standard, Cruz says. Cut off the strong arm of government and wait for your farms and small-town businesses to feel the grip of Adam Smith’s invisible hand, this pastor’s son preaches.

(Except, of course, when it comes to oil. Does anyone really think Texas would elect a senator hostile to advantages for the petroleum industry? Cruz’s record reveals nothing in the way of drilling for reform when it comes to Big Oil.)

“I believe we should phase out the ethanol mandate,” Cruz told this newspaper. “There shouldn’t be government picking winners and losers. But at the same time, we should remove the government barriers from the EPA that limit ethanol’s penetration in the marketplace.”

After a Page 1 Wall Street Journal story and pressure from Iowa’s biofuels community, Cruz is now claiming to be on the barn dance floor with biofuels. But, try as he might, his only move is the Texas Two-Step. (Here’s the Cruz choreography for that: 1) Destroy ethanol in Iowa; 2) Help the fellas in Houston.)

Iowa farmers giving Ted Cruz control of agricultural policy is like Denver trusting Tom Brady with the footballs before the playoff game this weekend.

The day before he married, Ted Cruz took his wedding party on an excursion to Ronald Reagan’s ranch in the mountains northwest of Santa Barbara, California.

(Has anyone dropped by West Branch, Iowa, at Herbert Hoover’s home before tying the knot?)

Besides being a garden spot for a Conservative Dream Barbie Wedding excursion (Ken, Ted, what’s the difference?), the Santa Barbara ranch allowed Cruz to stare out windows from Reagan’s vantage points, to imagine that he, Ted Cruz, is the next Great Communicator, memories he reveled in revealing last week.

Does Cruz measure up to Reagan?

Ask our own Gov. Terry Branstad.

Branstad knew Reagan, was a friend of Reagan’s… and if Branstad is being honest, he’d surely say Ted Cruz is no Ronald Reagan.

But Cruz is very much like at least one Reagan advisor — David Stockman, Reagan’s farm-disrespecting director of Office of Management and Budget.

In the middle of the farm crisis of the 1980s, Stockman sounded very much like the Ted Cruz of today. Agriculture should stand on its own with no assistance from the federal government, went the Stockman fish-by-yourself line.

Branstad, during a meeting at the White House in 1985, famously tossed a chair in disgust in response to condescending Stockman, who wouldn’t lift a federal finger to change farm credit policy.

Today, Branstad, while neutral in the GOP presidential nominating contest, is throwing something at Cruz — and it’s going to be enough to knock Cruz out of an Iowa caucuses win.

Branstad’s son, Eric, the state director of the non-partisan America’s Renewable Future, is the architect of a fiercely effective lobbying effort to raise the profile of Cruz’s hostility to ethanol, and by extension, rural Iowa, the state itself.

Iowa farmers trust Terry Branstad. They can’t trust Ted Cruz at the same time.

And they have until Feb. 1 to square that to preserve a basic respect, some limited leverage for Iowa agriculture, in future presidential caucuses. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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