The Slatest

Iowa’s Republican Governor Wants Ted Cruz to Lose the Iowa Caucus

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad speaks at a Roast and Ride event hosted by freshman Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) on June 6, 2015 in Boone, Iowa.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Donald Trump spent much of Tuesday teasing what would ultimately turn out to be a high-profile endorsement from Sarah Palin, scheduled for the evening in Iowa. The significantly less attention-grabbing—though arguably as consequential—news in the Hawkeye State, however, came Tuesday afternoon when the state’s Republican governor offered an anti-endorsement of Trump’s chief caucus rival, Ted Cruz.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a renewable fuels summit in his home state, Gov. Terry Branstad made it clear that he believes Cruz’s stance on ethanol subsidies should be a deal-breaker for Iowa Republicans. Cruz has pledged to phase out the federal mandate requiring a certain amount of ethanol and other biofuels be blended into the U.S. fuel supply. Cruz, Branstad said, “hasn’t supported renewable fuels, and I think it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him,” according to the Des Moines Register. Asked if he wants to see Cruz lose on Feb. 1, the governor responded: “Yes.”

Branstad, the longest-serving governor in U.S. history, easily won his sixth gubernatorial election two years ago, defeating his Democratic opponent by 22 points. Branstad has seen his approval ratings slip since then amidst a controversial push to privatize Medicaid, though he remains very popular in his own party. A Quinnipiac poll from this past summer found his Republican constituents overwhelming approve of the job he’s doing, 75 percent to 15 percent. (Pollsters have largely stopped asking Americans about how they feel about Palin but, for comparison, the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling surveyed Iowans back in the spring of 2014 and found 68 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of Palin, compared to 18 percent who had the opposite.) Iowa Republicans are similarly big fans of the federal biofuel program that provides a huge economic boost to their corn-rich state. According to a Bloomberg poll taken in December, 61 percent of likely GOP caucus-goers support the current federal mandate.

Cruz’s pledge to wind down that renewable fuel standard—a position much more popular with conservatives who don’t make their living in agriculture—has already caused him plenty of headaches in Iowa. Branstad’s son, Eric, runs the pro-ethanol group called America’s Renewable Future, which has followed Cruz’s campaign around in Iowa passing out anti-Cruz pamphlets at events and generally making life difficult for the Texas senator. (Gov. Branstad, meanwhile, had previously proved willing to play along with the Trump-fueled Birther-themed chatter about concerns over Cruz’s eligibility to be president.) Trump loves to remind Iowans of Cruz’s anti-subsidy stance whenever he can, and Tuesday was no different. Speaking at the same conference after Branstad made his comments about Cruz, Trump played to the crowd by saying that he was “100 percent” behind the ethanol industry and even suggested the government should ramp up the renewable fuel mandate. He also took to Twitter to use Branstad’s comments to buttress a different line of attack he’s been testing out on the trail lately:

Cruz will probably try to wear Branstad’s comments as another anti-establishment badge of honor. That, though, will be a difficult spin given Branstad spends his day in Des Moines, not D.C. Regardless, with less than two weeks left until Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus Cruz now finds himself having to play more defense than he had likely planned. The only good news for Cruz? Politicos and pundits may be too busy talking about the Palin endorsement he didn’t get to notice the Branstad anti-endorsement he did.

Previously on the Slatest:

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.