Terry Branstad embodies the Republican Establishment in Iowa; the state's moderate Governor is now the longest-serving Governor in American history. Steve Deace is one of Iowa's top conservative talk radio figures, and very plugged in to what's happening at the grassroots level. And Deace just reported that he is hearing that Branstad's team is actually pushing people to support Donald Trump so they can stop Ted Cruz. Why? I can explain in one word: ethanol.
Here's Deace's tweet:
Getting emails from people saying Branstad people are telling them they're caucusing for Trump to try and stop Cruz. (more)....
— Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) January 30, 2016
Deace continues by noting that we'll see signs of this Monday if Rubio underperforms (as anti-Cruz votes shift to Trump), although an even stronger indicator would be underperformance by Chris Christie, a close ally of Branstad; Branstad hasn't formally endorsed, but his organization is behind Christie despite the New Jersey Governor's tepid support in the Hawkeye State.
Why would Branstad want Trump? It's not because Branstad somehow thinks Trump is a good candidate for President. It's all about the most narrow, parochial interest you can imagine. Terry Branstad's son is the leading lobbyist for ethanol. As the New York Times noted last spring:
Eric Branstad, a Republican like his father, Gov. Terry E. Branstad, has lurked at candidates’ events across the state, sometimes with colleagues recording video. But rather than collecting opposition research, the younger Mr. Branstad is representing Iowa’s prized ethanol industry, which faces increasing pressure to wean itself of government support.
Mr. Branstad, 39, popped up at four appearances in Iowa this week by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Mr. Branstad was there on behalf of America’s Renewable Future, a pro-ethanol group that also planted supporters in the audience to press Mr. Cruz about his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal mandate benefiting farmers. At a stop in Dubuque, two people recording for Mr. Branstad were shown the door.
“We’re not trying to record ‘gotcha’ moments,’’ said Mr. Branstad, who promised that supporters of his group would attend political events throughout the year. He said the group was part of a grass-roots advocacy campaign that has a multimillion-dollar budget from Iowa’s agriculture industry.
Gov. Branstad has declared open war on Cruz the past few weeks; while Cruz's position calling for phasing out the ethanol Renewable Fuel Standard is not that different from that of some other candidates (Marco Rubio included), Cruz is the one closer to winning the caucuses and has spent more time talking about the issue than Rubio has, and it terrifies the crony capitalists of Iowa to think an anti-ethanol candidate could grab the third rail that defines Iowa's first place on the presidential calendar and survive. Trump, no matter his stance on every other issue under the sun, is acceptable to this crowd because he has gone into full crony pander mode on ethanol, calling for increasing the mandate:
Donald Trump said Tuesday that federal regulators should increase the amount of ethanol blended into the nation’s gasoline supply. Speaking at an event hosted by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Trump, a real estate mogul and the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ought to follow the ethanol volumes Congress set in 2007. “The EPA should ensure that biofuel ... blend levels match the statutory level set by Congress under the [renewable fuel standard],” Trump said.
...Trump was generally very supportive of the ethanol law, saying he is “100 percent” behind the ethanol industry, a powerful force in Iowa. “As president, I will encourage Congress to be cautious in attempting to charge and change any part of the RFS,” he said.
This would be the ultimate example of what Rich Lowry has called "The Quisling Establishment," selling out to a candidate with no conservative principles at all in exchange for thirty pieces of silver for their cronies.
The Branstad machine could be a real asset for Trump: unlike many Trump supporters, these are not people inexperienced with the system, but operators who not only are certain to turn out but also know how to behave at a caucus without alienating the people around them.
Steve Deace has been strongly in support of Cruz in the home stretch, and we can hope that his correspondents are overstating the extent of the Quisling contingent. But the fact that this is buzzing on the ground in Iowa should tell us all we need to know about the stakes in this race and why Trump is the worst possible vehicle for anyone who thinks the GOP establishment is part of the problem.