His kid’s an ethanol lobbyist and Cruz famously wants to phase out ethanol subsidies. Anything else we need to talk about here?

All right, let’s talk a little more.

“Ted Cruz is ahead right now. What we’re trying to do is educate the people in the state of Iowa. He is the biggest opponent of renewable fuels. He actually introduced a bill in 2013 to immediately eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard. He’s heavily financed by Big Oil. So we think once Iowans realize that fact, they might find other things attractive but he could be very damaging to our state,” Branstad said.

Branstad added that Cruz “hasn’t supported renewable fuels, and I think it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him.”

Asked if he would want to see Cruz defeated, Branstad said “yes.”

I admire Branstad for not even making a pretense of opposing Cruz for any reason beyond sweet sugary federal welfare. He could have dressed this up in a million principled ways — Cruz is divisive, he doesn’t work well with Congress, he has no executive experience, and on and on — but he’s right in your face about what the problem is. Will Trump, for all his flaws, keep the crony money flowing to Iowa? Well, then Trump is obviously acceptable. And to think, this guy’s approval rating is only 38/50.

Trump is greeting this plea for palm-greasing with predictable enthusiasm:

Not so shoking, really, given the economic interests at stake. Cruz fans, meanwhile, are greeting this with the usual “this only helps (or at least doesn’t hurt) Cruz!” spin:

Branstad is a Christie pal and he’s going to bat here for federal lucre. If you wanted a smoking gun that the establishment prefers Trump to Cruz, this is it! That’s the smart way to play this, but I think Cruz fans are getting increasingly glib about the amount of damage he’s taken. He’s got the eligibility thing hanging over his head; Trump is calling him a fake populist by focusing on his Goldman Sachs connection; Rubio keeps hammering him as dangerously weak on national security; Branstad’s accusing him of being an economic threat to Iowa; and, as best anyone can tell, tea-party/evangelical mega-star Sarah Palin’s making the case that Trump is preferable to Cruz. That’s a lot of fire from a lot of different directions. Cruz fans laugh all of this off as meaningless, partly because they have supreme faith in Cruz’s competence (for good reason) and partly, I think, because as true-believing conservatives themselves, they find it unfathomable that socially conservative Iowa could possibly back a poseur like Trump over Cruz. Essentially they’re betting that there are just too many discerning tea-party conservatives among the Republican electorate, particularly in Iowa, for Cruz to lose this race. I’m … less confident than they are. He might very well win the caucuses. I hope he does. If I had to bet today, though, I’d bet on Trump.

One other thing: I think it’s silly to crow that Branstad is establishment and unpopular and therefore, if anything, he’s likely to turn votes towards Cruz by coming out against him. How many Iowans who are undecided right now, trying to choose between Trump and Cruz, are going to say, “Wait, Branstad’s opposing him? That’s all I need to know!” If anything, I’d bet there are voters who don’t like Cruz but are tentatively in his camp because they’re worried Trump can’t be trusted with power. Hearing Branstad say that Cruz is the dangerous one, not Trump, might give them pause. And when push comes to shove, the news here isn’t that Branstad’s opposing Cruz; the news is that Branstad fears that Cruz will take away Iowa’s ethanol money. He may be unpopular as governor but special favors for ethanol aren’t. Any undecideds who haven’t been keeping up on the candidates’ ethanol stances just got a wake-up call.

Deace is right, though, that this does point to centrist GOPers being more comfortable with Trump as nominee than with Cruz. A friend messaged me today to say that the primaries increasingly feel like a courtroom saga in which the entire conservative movement is on trial for its life. If Trump wins, the vote is to execute. I guess Branstad’s cast his vote.

Update: Annnnnd scene.

Donald Trump said Tuesday that federal regulators should increase the amount of ethanol blended into the nation’s gasoline supply.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Trump, a real estate mogul and the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ought to follow the ethanol volumes Congress set in 2007.

“The EPA should ensure that biofuel … blend levels match the statutory level set by Congress under the [renewable fuel standard],” Trump said.

Update: Via the Right Scoop, I don’t know why Trump would want to hand Cruz a soundbite like the one below. Probably it’s a combination of pure ego — he’s very big with the donor class, you know — and, like I said up top, Trump wanting to reassure people that he’s not a loose cannon but rather someone who can play nice with the powers that be. He’s not necessarily making this up, though. WaPo had this the other day:

Spencer Zwick, the national finance chairman for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, said power brokers and financiers are now trying to cozy up to Trump in various ways, such as reaching out through mutual friends in New York’s business community.

“A lot of donors are trying to figure their way into Trump’s orbit. There is a growing feeling among many that he may be the guy, so people are certainly seeing if they can find a home over there,” he said.

Cruz is going around telling reporters “it’s no surprise that more and more of the establishment is beginning to support Donald Trump” and meanwhile here’s Trump saying, yep, that’s correct. That’s a weird move to make in a season of populism.