Another Day, Another Iowa Vettathon

As noted here with some anticipation last week, a buncha Republican proto-presidentials trouped to Iowa this weekend to undergo an unusually direct interest group vetting process: the Iowa Ag Summit, where instead of speeches the worthies submitted themselves to 20 minutes of on-stage questioning by an ethanol mogul. No, the questions weren’t just about ethanol, or even agriculture, but still, it served as an appropriate introduction to the strong expectation of Iowa Republicans that their votes at the 2016 caucuses had to be earned with some forelock-tugging.

Best I can tell from the sketchy reports (the best was probably this one from Politico‘s James Hohmann), the special guests at the Iowa Ag Summit sorted themselves into three groups on the subject of ag subsidies (mostly about the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate for ethanol use, but also the expired federal wind energy tax credit, that was very popular in Iowa): proud Cold Turkey anti-subsidy ideologue Ted Cruz, who puffed up his chest at his courage on the subject; subsidy fans Huckabee, Santorum and (partially, because he opposes the wind credit) Christie; and purveyors of the ever-popular “phase them out, but not now” position, Walker, Perry and Bush. George Pataki was also there, but I don’t think anybody cares about his position on ethanol.

Had Rand Paul been there (as you may recall, he doesn’t much do cattle calls), he would have probably joined Cruz in the “no corporate welfare” camp. And Bush’s position was ambiguous enough that one observer, Zeke Miller, put him in the “free market” category along with the fiery Texan. Most of them were asked about immigration policy, and everybody stayed pretty much where they were. Similarly, in Paul’s absence, none of them had found reason to support the president’s normalization of relations with Cuba.

Perhaps the most interesting tack was Huck’s on trade, as described by Hohmann:

Even more than during his 2008 bid, the former Arkansas governor set himself apart from the pack Saturday by expressing skepticism of trade agreements and decrying the outsized power of business in the Republican Party.

“There are three types of people: globalists, corporatists and nationalists,” he said, identifying himself as the latter. “We have allowed the Chinese to get away with things in trade agreements that we never should have done, and we’ve done it because we have a lot of globalists and frankly corporatists instead of having nationalists who put forward the best interests of the United States and working families.”

Huckabee blamed stagnant wages on bad trade deals. “We need to start making it so that Americans can prosper and not just so that the Chinese can buy Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags,” he said.

Contrast that to Walker, who boasted about getting an hour-long sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a 2013 trip to the country.

Hmm. For all the talk about Huck being a “populist” in 2008, I don’t recall him rebelling against GOP free trade orthodoxy. This and his “Fair Tax” advocacy really could distinguish him from the rest of the field if he runs.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.