Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), the longest serving governor in the history of the United States, is unlikely to make an endorsement before his state's 2016 primary, now just 12 days away. Yesterday, however, Branstad took the unusual step of announcing exactly which candidate he wants GOP voters to reject.
In a rare hard-lined stance on the 2016 race, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said Tuesday he believes a Senator Ted Cruz caucus victory would be "damaging" to the state. When asked by NBC affiliate WHO if Governor Branstad hoped that Cruz would be defeated in Iowa in the February 1st Republican caucus, he said, "Yes."
The governor made the comments at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit, and that context matters: Branstad doesn't seem to oppose Cruz because of the senator's conservativism; Branstad believes Cruz would "damage" Iowa by curtailing federal ethanol subsidies.
Indeed, the governor was speaking at an event that encourages federal ethanol subsidies, while Branstad's son works for a pro-ethanol group that's trying to undermine Cruz's campaign over the issue of ethanol subsidies.
At least on the surface, this hardly seems like good news for the Texas Republican. Among all the early nominating states, Iowa is the state in which Cruz is strongest, and if the senator comes up short in the Hawkeye State, it will be that much more difficult for him to advance. For Iowa's sitting, six-term, Republican governor to denounce Cruz -- and no other candidate -- seems like a serious setback at a critical time.
But it's important to understand the pitch Cruz is making to the state's conservative base.
Responding to Brandstad's comments, Cruz told reporters yesterday, "It is no surprise that the establishment is in full panic mode. We said from the beginning, that the Washington cartel was going to panic more and more. As conservatives unite behind our campaign you're going to see the Washington cartel firing every shot they can, every cannon they can."
The senator added, "Because the Washington cartel lives on cronyism, it lives on making deals, it lives on picking winners and losers and supporting corporate welfare and cronyism. This is what people are so fed up with."
In other words, having a Republican-establishment governor oppose Cruz actually dovetails quite nicely with the pitch Cruz is making to Iowans.
His allies are thinking along the same lines. Iowa radio host Steve Deace, an influential figure among conservatives in the state, added on Twitter, "Terry Branstad finally does conservatives a favor by telling us all who the establishment really hates -- Ted Cruz."