Yesterday we covered the acid test of prospective candidates for 2016 in Iowa when it comes to ethanol subsidies and the Renewable Fuel Standard. At that time I promised that I would report back to you on how the 2016 hopefuls did in this admittedly daunting challenge to conservative politicians. I’m sorry to say that, as the WSJ reported for us, the results were less than impressive in most cases.

Let’s start with the bad news. First up… Rick Perry.

[T]he former governor of a petroleum-rich state [Governor Perry] suggested he didn’t think it would be fair to end the RFS while oil companies continued to benefit from tax breaks. “I don’t think you pull the RFS out and discriminate against the RFS and leave all these other subsidies,” he said.

Jeb Bush acted like the RFS is a bad toy, but had no plans to put it back in the cupboard.

“The markets are ultimately going to have to decide this,” said Mr. Bush, who declined to set a firm deadline for ending the fuel standard imposed a decade ago by his brother, former President George W. Bush. “Whether that’s 2022 or sometime in the future I don’t know,” he said.

Chris Christie left no room for doubt.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was clearer about his position, saying he “absolutely” supported the fuel standard.

Mike Huckabee is at least consistent.

Mike Huckabee argued that support for ethanol is good national security policy, helping to reduce U.S. dependence on oil imports. He then quipped his support for the corn-based fuel wasn’t about pandering to Iowans because of their important role in the presidential nominating process.

Rick Santorum also stuck to his unsatisfactory 2012 answer.

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who won the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses, said ethanol “creates jobs in small-town and rural America, which is where people are hurting.”

From the same Bloomberg article, Lindsey Graham just played to the crowd.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham expressed strong support for ethanol in his appearance. “Every gallon of ethanol you can produce here in Iowa is one less gallon to have to buy from people who hate your guts,” he said.

Perhaps most disappointing, Scott Walker:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker backed the RFS, saying that while he tends to oppose government intervention, a marketplace issue exists for ethanol. He said consumers do not have the same access to corn-based fuel as gasoline, and because of that there’s a need for the standard.

“Right now we don’t have a free and open marketplace, and so that’s why I’m going to take that position,” he said.

I’ve been building up some early hopes for you, Governor Walker, but I must say this was a big let down.

And then there was this guy…

CruzIowa

When asked if he would support the Renewable Fuel Standard he just said no. And then he put out some hard truths which seemed to earn him the respect a difficult answer deserved.

“I recognize that this is a gathering of a lot of folks where the answer you’d like me to give is ‘I’m for the RFS, darnit;’ that’d be the easy thing to do,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, people are pretty fed up, I think, with politicians who run around and tell one group one thing, tell another group another thing, and then they go to Washington and they don’t do anything that they said they would do. And I think that’s a big part of the reason we have the problems we have in Washington, is there have been career politicians in both parties that aren’t listening to the American people and aren’t doing what they said they would do.”

And the crowd applauded, giving Cruz the warmest welcome so far.

Hot air reached out to the Cruz campaign about how he managed such an answer.

“Ted Cruz is straightforward about what he believes, whether he is in Iowa, Texas, or Washington DC. We need more leaders who tell the truth about what they will do and the response to that kind of honesty is very positive.”

I have to say, this was a potential game changer for me. I know that I probably put off some of you with my seemingly endless fascination with energy issues in general and ethanol subsidies in particular. It’s a sort of wonky subject, but I feel it’s an important one. And this forum in Iowa was, in my view, a test of character for the nascent candidates on a matter of vital interest.

I’ve expressed doubts in the past about the long term viability of Ted Cruz on the national stage, particularly given the horribly effective way the media has sold the “crazy wingnut” stories to the public. But this guy has demonstrated the kind of intestinal fortitude that is far too often lacking in GOP leaders, and he certainly showed those qualities once again in Iowa. Take this as a benchmark for the coming campaign. There weren’t many clear standouts here, but the Best in Show was clearly a winner.