Sen. Ted Cruz holds an unusual position for someone leading in most Iowa Republican presidential caucus polls: opposition to ethanol subsidies. And the ethanol industry wants voters to know about it.

Eight years ago, Sen. John McCain shamelessly flip-flopped on ethanol subsidies in order to curry favor with the area corn farmers who benefit from them. "I drink a glass of ethanol every morning with [Sen.] Chuck Grassley for breakfast" he would say on the campaign trail, as a form on penance.

In contrast, Cruz notably stated his opposition to ethanol subsidies at the March 2015 Iowa Agricultural Summit which was organized and moderated by an ethanol industry CEO. He won surprising applause from the crowd at the time, but the political arm of the industry, "America's Renewable Future," is now running campaign ads against him.

The ad "Ted Cruz (R-Oil)" seeks to undercut his conservative opposition to all government subsidies by arguing he was "caught lying" when hypocritically defending government support for oil.

The ad uses video of Cruz telling a voter, "A lot of what are called subsidies in the oil and gas industry, those are I believe analogous to ordinary business deductions that every other industry gets." After showing stats on the campaign contributions Cruz has received from oil interests, the narrator charges, "There are a million reasons why Ted Cruz would choose oil over ethanol."

The Cruz-friendly Super PAC Courageous Conservatives has leapt to his defense, turning the attack on Cruz into an opportunity to single out Marco Rubio as insufficiently conservative.

"Heard that silly ethanol lobby ad attacking Ted Cruz. It's a lie," the narrator begins. "Cruz opposes all energy subsidies, including oil subsidies, just like any conservative should." (That defense skirts the question of whether Cruz is properly defining what an oil subsidy is.)

Then the narrator contrasts Cruz's willingness to oppose ethanol in Iowa to Rubio: "But when has Marco Rubio ever taken a conservative stand?" asks the narrator incredulously, citing his support of immigration "amnesty," "sugar subsidies" "paid family leave funded by taxpayers" and the "NSA spying on citizens."

The final cut: "Marco Rubio looks good on TV, but that's about it."

The rough treatment of Rubio is a bit odd since it is Donald Trump who has slammed Cruz the hardest over ethanol. Echoing the ethanol industry ad, Trump said at an Iowa rally, "I understand if oil pays him a lot of money, he’s gotta’ be for oil ... If Ted Cruz is against ethanol, how does he win in Iowa?"

But Cruz's strategy is to remain in good standing with Trump and his supporters, in hopes they will eventually shift to him, while bashing Rubio as too moderate.

That leaves Cruz all alone in the field's top-tier as a fervent opponent of ethanol. If he can hold on to that view and still win the Iowa caucuses, he will have changed the rules of the game.

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