With some hasty blogging — and exacerbated by an Iowan's mistaken assertion about the ethanol mandate, Ted Cruz's shrewd answering, and the ethanol lobby's odd response — I contributed to some confusion about Ted Cruz's views on the ethanol mandate. (For the sake of candor, my original [probably misleading] post is at the bottom of this article.)

Sen. Ted Cruz in 2013 co-sponsored the "Renewable Fuel Standard Repeal Act," which would immediately repeal the ethanol mandate.

In 2014, he introduced a broad energy bill that would wind down the mandate over five years, slashing the federally mandated volume of renewable fuels (including corn ethanol) by 20 percent every year for five years.

Last night in Cherokee, Iowa, Cruz said again that he believed in "a gradual phaseout" of the mandate over five years. The ethanol lobby group — America's Renewable Future — responded to this by declaring that Cruz had decided to "listen to Iowa farmers."

"During a bus tour stop in Sioux Center, Iowa last night," the group said in a statement, "Senator Ted Cruz expressed support for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) through 2022."

The thing is, while this represents a shift from 2013, it has been Cruz's position since 2014. Cruz's campaign confirmed to me that he still would slash the mandate every year — so that by the end of his first term, mandated levels would be only 1/5th of what they would otherwise be — meaning the mandated levels would drop each year instead of rising each year.

So it was misleading for ARF — and for me — to represent Cruz's comments in Cherokee as a flip-flop.

Unlike other Republican candidates, Cruz wouldn't leave the RFS alone until 2022 (notably, that's in the theoretical second term of the next president), but he would cut it each year of his presidency.

Does America's Renewable Future really find that an acceptable policy? If so, why have they been attacking him so viciously this campaign?

Possibly, ARF has decided they can't beat Cruz, so they have to pretend Cruz joined them.

So, whence my confusion?

1) I figured if the ethanol lobby was applauding Cruz, then Cruz had changed. This was a simplistic assumption on my part.

2) I didn't fully parse Cruz's answer. The Iowan asked, basically, if Cruz would leave the mandate alone until 2022, and Cruz's tone was one of agreement, and so I assumed he said yes. In fact, he didn't. He still promised a "gradual phaseout" as above.

3) The whole thing was confused by a false premise in the Iowan's question — a premise Cruz explicitly accepted: that under current law the ethanol mandate will expire in 2022.

The voter put the following question to Cruz:

QUESTION: "Are you going to jerk the rug right out from underneath it, or are you going to let it expire in 2022 like it should, and then stand on its own?"

CRUZ: "Maggie, you rightly noted that the RFS is set to expire in 2022. When I said we should phase it out, I said it should be a five-year phaseout--a phaseout from 2017 to 2022 is five years."

But the RFS doesn't expire in 2022 under current law. Instead, it includes a table with mandated volumes up to 2022, and then has this passage:

"for calendar years after the calendar years specified in the tables shall be determined by the Administrator, in coordination with the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Agriculture, with a review of the implementation of the program during calendar years specified in the tables, and an analysis of" various market factors.


Sen. Ted Cruz in 2013 co-sponsored the "Renewable Fuel Standard Repeal Act," which would immediately repeal the ethanol mandate.

He has chastised those politicians who embrace the ethanol mandate when in Iowa and then speak about free enterprise elsewhere.

Yesterday in Iowa, Cruz said he would leave the ethanol mandate in place for now — not touching it at all in his first term, and then letting it expire when the current mandate is (kind of) set to expire, in his theoretical second term.

"The RFS is scheduled to expire in 2022," Cruz said in Cherokee, Iowa. "When I said we should phase it out, I said it should be a five-year phase out. A phase-out from 2017 to 2022 is a five-year phaseout."

America's Renewable Future, the ethanol lobby spearheaded by Eric Branstad (the governor's son) has been attacking Cruz viciously for months. Today they're applauding him.

Branstad wrote in a statement:

Farmers and rural communities across Iowa are going to be encouraged by Sen. Cruz's remarks. He is clearly listening to the people of Iowa and understands the importance of the Renewable Fuel Standard to America's economy and energy independence, as he started the caucus process calling for immediate repeal. While not perfect, this is a big step forward by Sen. Cruz.

UPDATE: Cruz's campaign responds that this wasn't a flip-flop, because by 2014 Cruz was already advocating a 5-year phase-out of the RFS.]

Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.