Former Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston talked with Iowa Congressman Steve King this weekend about Monday night’s Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz—whose campaign Rep. King chairs, and more about 2016.
JACK KINGSTON: You’ve probably been one of the most active non-presidential candidates campaigning across Iowa this year, supporting of course Ted Cruz, who is being knocked pretty hard here for his ethanol stances. In deciding your support for president, how do you balance what’s best for your home state and constituents, and what’s best for the country as a whole, if those aren’t always the same thing?
STEVE KING: I haven’t found very many conflicts over the years when I thought that I had to make a decision between the interests of the state and the interests of the nation. Most of the time they’re one in the same.
I do know that Ted has been hit pretty hard for his position and opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is a mandate that now says about 14.5 billion gallons of ethanol be blended into the marketplace. He and I begin working with that issue around mid-summer and put together a policy along with Dave Vander Griend, who has built more than half of the ethanol plants in the state of Iowa. That would be at least 20-some, maybe 30-some ethanol plants in the state of Iowa, so he knows more about the industry than anyone else. And so with Dave’s counsel and with leadership and the ability that Ted Cruz has demonstrated, and with some of my input—I’m going to be modest about that part—we put together an ethanol policy that’s good for the state and it’s good for the country.
What Ted’s policy does is it eliminates the subsidies anywhere along the line, including for petroleum, so that ethanol can compete on a level playing field with petroleum. It also eliminates— phasing down and then out after 5 years— the Renewable Fuel Standard. So that means that ethanol then competes in the marketplace, but a big part of the policy that allows this to happen is that we recognize that petroleum would block ethanol out of the pump— it would not allow ethanol to be sold in the retail market. And so Ted Cruz would direct the EPA to eliminate what is now a 10% blend wall—you could probably say in some cases a 15% blend wall.
We know that there’s a sweet spot in blending ethanol with gasoline, where you get the best advantage in octane increase and in decrease in toxic tailpipe emissions, and we think that sweet spot is around E30—E25 to E30. So Ted Cruz and I both want to see that market share be earned through competition in the marketplace. And in order to allow the pumps to be opened up so ethanol can be sold there, Ted Cruz would use the anti-trust acts— Sherman Anti-Trust, Clayton Anti-Trust— to open up the marketplace.
So I think all-in-all he’s got a better position and a better policy for the long-term best interest of ethanol— especially corn ethanol. And that means it’s not a difficult decision then, if you believe in the policy Ted Cruz has laid out with ethanol, it’s not a conflict between national interests and state interests. But it is an incentive to find the right solution and I think that’s what Ted Cruz has done and he’s done it in multiple topics.
JK: Does Donald Trump have the conservative credentials of the other candidates? People are saying he has made some pretty liberal statements and campaign contributions in the past, but clearly his campaign is resonating with voters across the country and in Iowa. How has he been so successful in recruiting staunchly conservative GOP primary voters, particularly in Iowa?
SK: Donald Trump has donated a lot of money to Democrats along the way, as you said, Jack. $25,000 to the Democrat Senatorial Committee in 2008, donated to Hillary Clinton—six figures to Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Andrew Cuomo, endorsed Bill DeBlasio, and a good number of others. And yet, there are a lot of Republicans that have, as you say, flocked to his campaign here in Iowa.
Well I’d say first, look at the endorsements that he has. Those endorsements that come along are because Donald Trump has a tremendous amount of assets, and he’s willing to commit those assets to the endorsements that he wants. When I say assets, that includes things such as fortune and fame and future opportunities as well as the fear factor that Donald Trump will turn on people. So with all of that together, they decide in many cases that they’re just going to step in and help Donald Trump.
That speaks to the endorsements, but the people who come out and caucus is a little bit different. And I think that is because they are fed up. They’re fed up with a Washington that doesn’t seem to hear them. And they’re fed up with people that they’ve helped get elected to office that didn’t follow through on their promises. And they’re thinking that if Donald Trump will build a wall on the southern border—a beautiful wall and make the Mexicans pay for it, they love the sound of that. There are a lot of sound bites coming out from Donald Trump that encourage people. And what we’re finding is, when they learn that Donald Trump would build a wall on the southern border, but then that he would round everybody up and deport them, only to then bring them all— or almost all of them— back into the United States, they’re not noticing those contradictions. It’s piece after piece of this, it’s that Donald Trump’s statements— any statement that he makes has most generally been already contradicted by a previous statement of his. But people aren’t sorting through the issues. They seem to be mesmerized by the star power of Donald Trump. So this is an unpredicted phenomenon—and up-to-this-point an unexplainable phenomenon. But in the end, we’ll see how many people come out to the caucus Monday night for Donald Trump. I expect it’s going to be less than he’s anticipating.
JK: Along with Trump, Bernie Sanders has posted strong numbers in Iowa and looks like he could contend with Hillary there. What is it that makes Iowans so open to different ideas and new approaches to politics?
SK: Well with Bernie in Iowa, it looks like he has a reasonable chance to beat Hillary. In fact, I predict that Bernie Sanders the socialist will beat Hillary Clinton in Iowa Caucus, also by a close margin. Bernie has picked up on a lot of the foundation that was built by Barack Obama back in 2008. And because Hillary was in conflict there, she doesn’t step in and inherit the Obama machine in that fashion. Plus, Hillary hasn’t been in the state in seven years. Until she came to Tom Harkin’s last steak fry and the first thing she said when she stepped up on that hay rack was, “I’m baaack.” That may have been the message to the rest of Iowa to remind us that it’d been a long time since she’d been back. So Bernie’s been campaigning hard in Iowa. And he’s reaping the reward for that. Iowans to a degree are open to new ideas. We like to think things through and if there are ideas that are generated that we can bring forward and change the policy, then I think that’s something that both Democrats and Republicans look favorably upon.
But the Trump campaign is something completely different. But either way, we know that we have to evaluate the new pitches, the new stories and ideas along the way. Because if we can’t beat conventional wisdom in Iowa with new ideas generated, then those new ideas die here and they never see the light of day in New Hampshire or South Carolina or Nevada or beyond. And so I think that’s a part of it—we know we need to be evaluating the new ideas and once in a while, you’re going to find a good one, that’s why I think Iowans are receptive to the messages of both Trump and of Bernie Sanders.
JK: Do you think Cruz can still win the nomination if he doesn’t win Iowa?
SK: I believe that Ted Cruz will win Iowa. I believe it will be a close race with Cruz and Trump, with Marco Rubio a distant third. But do I still think he can win the nomination if he doesn’t win Iowa? Yes. He’s built a nationwide campaign, he’s raised more money than anybody else, he’s kept more cash on hand than anybody else, and he’s well positioned to go through the early states—New Hampshire, especially South Carolina and then the SEC Primary from Texas, which will be a favorable state for him, all the way to the Atlantic seaboard.
So, if he doesn’t win Iowa, this isn’t over for Ted Cruz. He’s got a game plan to go all the way. He put that all together before he made the decision, or before he announced at least, to enter into the presidential race. And that’s not true for many of the other candidates that will not have the resources to get to the end if they don’t have a miracle finish here in Iowa.
So the race gets smaller quickly after Iowa. I think the candidates who are already registered and in in New Hampshire, their names will be on the ballot. But after New Hampshire, I think you’ll really see the field narrow up to a field of far fewer than the 17 that we started with.