Sunday, January 17, 2016
The Emerging, Populist, Cruz Narrative
One of the more remarkable, and under-reported, political developments this campaign season is that Ted Cruz is actively opposing ethanol subsidies. Philosophically, of course, Republican should oppose subsidizing any industry. Subsidies mean your playing favorites in the marketplace, something no Republican, at least no conservative, should ever do.
And yet, almost all do, because they like to buy votes. To be fair, the GOP isn't a party entirely based on vote-buying, like the Democrats, but that doesn't mean they are guilt free. In particular, Republicans with presidential aspirations have always shown enthusiastic support for ethanol, a circumstance rising from the fact that ethanol comes from corn, and Iowa grows lots of corn.
No one can ever win Iowa without sucking up to the farmers, the conventional wisdom goes. So, every four years, a parade of GOP hopefuls sell their free market souls on the cheap to a single industry in a small Mid-Western state. If they're willing to do that, what other conservative principles are they willing to sell out once they get in office? Lots, if recent GOP history is a guide.
No wonder the base is as angry as a hornet's nest at its own party. The Karl Roves and Jeb Bushes are still getting their arms around this.
Enter Ted Cruz. He is visiting every county in Iowa, and he is actively opposing the very issue Iowans are said to hold most dear. And he's winning. A van full of protesters, paid for by the ethanol lobby, harasses Cruz at every campaign stop, but no matter. Previous presidential hopefuls were unwilling to trust that Iowa Republicans value a principled position more than another four years of the government teat. It appears they are. How wonderful is that?
Should Cruz win Iowa, he will have a powerful case that he won't sacrifice principle for political expediency. He will further say that he opposes oil & gas subsidies, something that hurts him in his home state, sugar subsidies, something Marco Rubio supports because he takes money from the sugar barons, and all the stupid, market-distorting green subsidies favored by Obama. In fact, no subsidies of any kind. The government shouldn't play favorites.
All this ties into a bigger narrative: anti-cronyism. When the government plays favorites in the marketplace, the winners of federal largess turn out to be - hold on to your hats - big campaign contributors. Ending subsidies will do away with all that. Want to succeed? Produce something that people want.
Let's take it a step further. Cruz wants to eliminate our current tax code. As I've written about before, the tax code is our nation's single biggest source of corruption. In short, companies donate money to politicians and get favorable tax treatment in return, always buried deeply somewhere in the code's 75,000 pages. (This is called crony capitalism, but I hate that term, because playing favorites has nothing to do with capitalism, which is all about a level playing field. It should be called crony federalism.)
Do you see where this goes? Cruz can then unite his tax policy and his anti-subsidies policy under one theme, one that favors the little guy over fat cats and special interests. It's very populist, and it's one that should appeal to the Occupy types as much as the supply-siders. Yes, I know, it's a theme that almost sounds trite because just about every politician tries to sound this way.
But here's the thing: none of those politicians went to Iowa and opposed ethanol subsidies. You have to walk the walk.