Wednesday, January 6, 2016



If Ted Cruz wins Iowa, especially if he wins big, it will confirm that the subsidies and mandates for ethanol are very important only to a sliver of the population. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Can Cruz kill King Corn?

The ethanol lobby is getting scared.
The ethanol mandate has no clearer enemy among top-tier presidential candidates than Ted Cruz. And in Iowa, where ethanol has for decades held a mystical sway over politicians of all stripes, the clear front-runner in next month's caucuses is Ted Cruz.
If Cruz wins Iowa, especially if he wins big, it will confirm that the subsidies and mandates for ethanol are very important only to a sliver of the population (largely the lobbyists and executives of the giant agribusinesses that receive the lion's share of the benefit).
More from the Washington Examiner
If Iowa voters don't really care about the ethanol mandate, then the ethanol lobby is a paper tiger. If the ethanol lobby is a paper tiger, then the federal ethanol mandate is not long for this world.
Ethanol is a fuel made from grain — most importantly corn. For decades, federal and state governments have subsidized ethanol. Currently, the most important subsidy is the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires refiners to pour some ethanol into their gasoline. Ethanol is less efficient than gasoline, and environmental groups curse its effects on greenhouse gases, water levels and soil quality. The mandate obviously clashes with the free-market principles Republicans profess as well.
Iowa, at 2.37 billion bushels in 2014, produces more corn than any other state. Most Iowans, including Republican voters, support the RFS. In a December poll, 61 percent of Iowa Republicans said they support the mandate, while 34 percent oppose it. At first glance, that confirms that the mandate is popular. But take a second look: a full one third of Iowa Republicans oppose corporate welfare for Iowa.
Dig deeper and ethanol looks less like a third rail in Iowa. A May 2015 Selzer & Co. poll found Iowans split evenly (45 percent to 46 percent) on whether "Subsidies are a waste of government money — including past subsidies for ethanol and wind energy."
This anti-subsidy mindset is a fruit of the Tea Party, which was born in the wake of the Wall Street bailouts. Being a conservative today increasingly means opposing big-government handouts to special interests, even to "your own" people.
Also from the Washington Examiner
In the 2012 cycle, Selzer & Co. also asked Iowa Republicans how big a deal ethanol subsidies were, and only 14 percent said subsidy opposition was a "deal killer," while 40 percent said it was "no real problem." "Iowa Republicans' long reputation for being hostile to political candidates who oppose ethanol subsidies isn't true today," wrote Des Moines Register political reporter Jen Jacobs at the time, "if it ever was."
"It never comes up," Rand Paul told me in Waukee, Iowa, last month. He could recall only two instances of anyone in Iowa asking him about the issue, and both times they were paid activists, either for or against the mandate. Ted Cruz's campaign staff told me something similar.
"Voters here are just not that interested in ethanol anymore," Iowa political scientist Steffen Schmidt told the Associated Press in December. "You don't even hear the word come out the mouths of candidates much."
Chris Christie has the endorsement of Iowa's preeminent Republican businessman Bruce Rastetter — who has made millions off of ethanol subsidies. Christie chides the Obama administration for not implementing the mandate more aggressively. Donald Trump attacks Cruz for opposing it. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have tried to fudge on the issue.
Cruz has clearly and repeatedly said he would wind down the mandate in about three years — faster than any of his opponents. And now he could win Iowa.
Also from the Washington Examiner
So the industry has gone into panic mode. Eric Branstad, a spin instructor and the son of the Republican governor, is being paid by the ethanol lobby group America's Renewable Future to stalk Cruz around Iowa. The group leaves glossy fliers on the chairs of Cruz events, warning that "Ted Cruz is Dangerous" because of his mandate opposition.
Here's the thing: the ethanol lobby has been attacking Cruz for months — including harsh radio spots — and it hasn't stopped Cruz from moving into first place.
Now, the ethanol industry has to attack harder, because they know what a Cruz caucus victory would prove: that there is no significant public support for their industry's biggest subsidy.
A Cruz win, especially amidst the ethanol lobby's full-court press, would show that all the other politicians who pandered to the corn cronies were fooled. Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie, and dozens before them, all saw the subsidy enthusiasm of the special-interest lobbyists who came bearing checks, and these candidates assumed there was a grass-roots army behind them.
Maybe the pandering politicians and the ethanol lobbyists are right. Maybe you can't win Iowa while opposing goodies for ethanol. But if Cruz punctures that myth, subsidy lobbyists of all stripes will have reason to worry.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on
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The depression of voters seems like nothing to celebrate, and a Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump election is not one that anybody would savor. (AP Photo)

A depressing campaign, and an election we need

Sometimes, it takes a fever to kill off an infection, and the American electorate is running pretty hot these days.
Voter dissatisfaction is not a new phenomenon. In election after election, people bemoan that they merely have a choice between "the lesser of two evils." Frustration with Washington has been the norm for quite some time.
But in 2016, an election in which both parties have fielded their "A Team" of presidential contenders has been an astonishing letdown.
For instance, the candidates leading the polls in either party — Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, Donald Trump for the Republicans — are not just viewed unfavorably by voters overall; they are the most unfavorably viewed by Americans out of all of the candidates running.
More from the Washington Examiner
To put this in context, during the entire slog of the 2012 election, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney sustained a brand as unfavorable as Clinton or Trump. John McCain, John Kerry and George W. Bush all enjoyed "favorables" of over 50 percent during their presidential campaigns, even though two out of the three were ultimately never elected president.
Today, only one out of four Americans think the country is on the right track. Americans continue to express deep economic anxiety, and the president's job approval remains low, with particular disapproval for handling of foreign policy.
Given this complete rejection of the status quo, it is astonishing that there's a chance that voters will be presented with this depressing choice: Hillary Clinton, — symbolic of dynastic elite, entrenched interests, corporate America and politics-as-usual — or someone radical like Trump, whose vision of forward progress is distinctly backward looking, as if to reclaim a bygone era by hitting rewind.
But taking America back to a different time isn't possible, even if we wanted it to be.
Republicans may pine for the Reagan 1980s, while Democrats pine for the New Deal 1930s. But the makeup of America and the evolution of our economy means that neither is in the cards for us, nor should they be. The pace of demographic and technological change reshaping America means it is impossible to recreate the halcyon days of our own preferred ideological movements.
Also from the Washington Examiner
First, as technology improves our lives in countless ways, the ineptitude and inefficiency of Washington looks even worse in contrast.
When we now carry dozens of gigabytes in our pockets and can store a terabyte of data for a couple of bucks, the fact that the government has a cave in Pennsylvania where paper records on government retirees are stored is maddening.
When citizens can get anything from a safe ride home to the latest Hollywood blockbuster with the touch of a button, waiting weeks or months for a government agency to act or respond to a request seems even more ludicrous. We expect better services and better products and use Yelp or TripAdvisor to tell the world about our experiences, but there's no way to give "one star" to a disastrous government policy or program.
There's also demographic change remaking our society and shifting our policy preferences in its wake. As Republican pollster Whit Ayres writes in his book 2016 And Beyond, "The uncomfortable reality is that the Republican Party has a worn out business model for a 21st-century presidential electorate." The growth of the Hispanic population, the decline of marriage, the rise of the millennial generation all have given rise to new challenges, new opportunities and new preferences from voters who want an agenda that meets the needs of their lives, and neither party at present seems primed to address these needs.
America has changed rapidly, leaders have failed to keep up and voter anger is boiling ever hotter.
Also from the Washington Examiner
If voters simply shrug at mediocrity, nothing changes. Reforming big things can't happen without a catalyst, as frustration grows into the will to act. Systems, institutions and bureaucracies that for too long have failed — failed to keep us safe, failed to adapt and become more fiscally efficient, failed to educate poor children, failed to expand opportunity — may find that an angry electorate is no longer willing to tolerate failure.
A dramatically reshaped landscape, demographically and technologically, paired with deep and expressed voter anger, may mean politicians are forced before long to come to grips with tides bigger than themselves. Enough, voters are saying.
The depression of voters seems like nothing to celebrate, and a Clinton vs. Trump election is not one I'd savor. Disgust and disdain at Washington may manifest itself in a whole host of ways, for good or for ill. But like many illnesses, those unpleasant symptoms are often part and parcel of the process of being cured.
What a depressing campaign this has been. But it also just may lead to the election we need.
Kristen Soltis Anderson is a columnist for The Washington Examiner and author of The Selfie Vote.
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