The Corner

More Candidates Should Come Out against Cronyism on the Campaign Trail

Here is a recurring frustration during election season: Candidates who seem attractive before the race begins suddenly sound squishier or change their positions once they hit the campaign trail.

On the issue of cronyism, there is one noticeable exception during this year’s campaign. In spite of what could be perceived as a political risk, one candidate has remained true to his opposition to (and his commitment to end) the terrible renewable-fuel standard, which requires blending ethanol and other biofuels into the gasoline supply, thereby driving food prices up and creating all sorts of distortions in the energy market: That’s Senator Ted Cruz. The Wall Street Journal reports

Mr. Cruz is calling for an end to the Renewable Fuel Standard, a law first passed in 2005 that requires refineries to blend an increasing amount of biofuels, including the corn-based ethanol produced here, into the U.S. gasoline supply each year.

Cruz has long been an opponent of the renewable fuel standard; he even sponsored a bill to repeal it in 2013. Since 2014 he has argued for phasing it out. He is sticking to his plan, which would end the standard by 2022. With the Iowa caucuses just weeks away, that’s brave.

America’s Renewable Future, which is now solely dedicated to attacking Mr. Cruz, is papering GOP caucus-goers’ homes with mail accusing the Texas senator of being beholden to his home-state oil industry, and it is airing countless television and radio ads urging Iowans to vote for anyone else.

I have to say that I admire Cruz’s consistency here. It is unusual in politicians and it’s important. As the Journal explains, the stakes could be high for us taxpayers. Indeed, if Cruz ends up winning in Iowa without having either supported the standard or made accommodations to the demands of America’s Renewable Future, it will signal to all the other candidates that you do not necessarily need to cater to cronyism to win there. That could mean being more honest about one’s position on the issue or being even outspoken against cronyism.

For the trade groups that represent Iowa’s ethanol producers, Mr. Cruz represents an existential crisis: If he proves a presidential candidate can win Iowa without the approval of the ethanol lobby — represented here by a group called America’s Renewable Future — the fear is no candidate will ever back their agenda again. . . . 

To fight Mr. Cruz, the ARF has a paid staff of 22 pushing its message across the state — larger than many of the GOP candidates’ campaigns here. The group has collected commitments from more than 50,000 people who say they will only caucus for candidates who back the federal fuel standard.

Cruz’s anti-cronyism position extends beyond the ethanol mandate. He was a fierce opponent of the Ex-Im Bank and he has come out loudly against sugar subsidies too. Marco Rubio, on the other hand, may have demonstrated his establishment bona fides by being super pro–sugar subsidies and by changing his position on the ethanol mandate.

Sen. Marco Rubio was one of four GOP candidates to improve his ARF rating from “needs work” over the summer by publicly embracing the federal ethanol mandate. The Florida senator said Tuesday that the federal government’s agriculture mandates aren’t the same as federal regulations on other industries he is seeking to eliminate.

“We cannot analyze issues before agriculture as being equal to what other industries face, because it’s not an equal playing field,” Mr. Rubio said. “It’s a very weak industry.”

This is a strange thing for him to say since these are the very arguments he thought didn’t hold water when he was fighting against the Ex-Im Bank. But maybe that’s only because he understood that one’s opposition to the Ex-Im Bank had become a litmus test of one’s free-market credentials.

The bottom line is that I wish more candidates were consistent and willing to oppose cronyism even when campaigning in Iowa or Florida. It would be a powerful signal that business as usual is indeed over.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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