Understanding King’s Endorsement of Ted Cruz

Cruz Flag
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

Senator Ted Cruz landed a coveted Iowa endorsement on Monday when Congressman Steve King, the conservative standard bearer, backed the Texas Senator’s presidential bid. King’s endorsement of Cruz should come as no surprise. Both are firebrands who, at times, take slings and arrows from members of their own party. They also don’t mind returning the favor.

Beyond the fact that the two are cast from the same ideological mold, King’s endorsement was also somewhat telegraphed. King’s son, Jeff, signed on a to one of the pro-Cruz Super PACs back in July, and the Cruz campaign has publically stated that they would be shocked if King didn’t endorse. King also took the stage at Cruz’s religious freedom rally in August and an earlier rally following the disappointing Supreme Court decisions this past June. Still, King’s endorsement of a presidential candidate is like a conservative seal of approval for a candidate, but in this instance, a candidate like Cruz probably didn’t need someone to certify that he’s a conservative.

What does Cruz get from a King endorsement?

If there is one endorsement that really carries weight in Iowa, it’s King’s. Not only is he the most outspoken conservative high-profile elected official in the state, but King will actually want to be integrally involved in the campaign he’s endorsing. This was noticeable the last time he endorsed a presidential candidate in 2008. King’s choice that year was former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. The knock on Thompson was that he wasn’t all that into retail campaigning, but once King got involved, he energized the campaign.

Thompson would go on to finish third in Iowa in the 2008 caucuses, but had it not been for King, Thompson would have surely finished behind John McCain, who finished a close fourth. Part of King’s calculus that year was to halt McCain’s comeback, and keeping him out of the top three in Iowa was an accomplishment, but McCain was still able to overpower the field in New Hampshire.

The Cruz campaign should know how to best utilize King. Cruz’s Iowa campaign manager is Bryan English, who was a congressional staffer for King in Iowa in 2008. Trust me, King and Cruz are going to be attached at the hip when the candidate is in Iowa. One knock on Cruz is that he doesn’t meet people all that well, so having someone like King who has spent years getting to know the GOP faithful from every corner of the state should help Cruz over come one of his main weaknesses.

What does this tell us about King?

Iowa activists are often branded by who they support in presidential campaigns. For example, I’ll probably be a “Forbes guy” until the day I die or choose to work for another presidential candidate. This is only the second time that King, as a member of Congress, has endorsed a presidential candidate in a contested caucus campaign. It’s important to note that in endorsing Thompson and Cruz, King has forgone endorsing some of the more socially conservative candidates and instead backed two 10th Amendment state rights advocates.

King’s endorsements also give us an indication of how he ranks the importance of issues. In the past, two factors – a candidate’s position on immigration policy and their ability to win the Republican nomination for president – have weighed heavily on King’s decision-making process. In recent cycles, King has opted not endorse his personal friends and colleagues Tom Tancredo and Michele Bachmann, despite being in lock-step with them on most issues.

Even though a candidate like Mike Huckabee has been the only presidential candidate in history to champion the FairTAX, a proposal King passionately supports, Huckabee has never really been under consideration for getting King’s support. King also lines up with Rick Santorum on virtually every issue, yet King refused to endorse Santorum’s candidacy because he valued the friendships of the other candidates in the race in 2012.

King is at odds with Cruz at least two critical issues.

King’s number one issue is immigration, and he takes a very strict conservative approach to the issue. In fact, last week, King described amnesty to Fox News contributor Brit Hume saying, “Any reduced penalty not provided by current law is amnesty whether it’s a million dollar fine or a dollar.” This puts King at odds with Cruz’s 2013 amendment to the Gang of Eight bill because, while it eliminated a pathway to citizenship, it still granted undocumented immigrants RPI (Registered Provisional Immigrant) status, and they would eventually be eligible for LPR (Lawful Permanent Resident) status under Cruz’s proposal.

At his press conference in Des Moines on Monday morning, TheIowaRepublican.com pressed King on this issue. King said that he was aware of Cruz’s amendment while it happening and that he didn’t have any problem with it. King believes Cruz’s motives where to “pry out” the main priorities of the Gang of Eight bill, namely the pathway to citizenship.

King also noted that he was pleased with the immigration proposal the Cruz campaign released last week after coming under fire for the amendment he proposed to the Gang of Eight bill back in 2013. When TheIowaRepublican.com pointed out that Cruz’s proposal doesn’t mention anything about what he would do with the undocumented immigrants already in the country, King said he is confident that he and Cruz are on the same page when it comes to amnesty.

King is clearly giving Cruz the benefit of the doubt, because if you go back and watch or read how Cruz advocated for his amendment, it’s pretty clear to see that instead of inserting a poison pill to derail the bill, it sure looked like he was attempting to find a compromise solution.

If the goal is to pass common-sense immigration reform that secures the borders, that improves legal immigration, and that allows those here illegally to come in out of the shadows, then we should look for areas of bipartisan compromise to come together.  And this (Cruz) amendment, I believe if this amendment were to pass, the chances of this bill passing into law would increase dramatically.” – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, May 21, 2013)

Apparently the Renewable Fuels Standard isn’t the “Holy Grail” for King.

King has long been a supporter of renewable fuels and energy. King hasn’t just supported things like the Renewable Fuels Standard for the ethanol industry, he has defended the policy against its opponents. Earlier this month at the opening of DuPont’s newest cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, King was quoted by the Des Moines Register defending the RFS. “King called the Renewable Fuel Standard the ‘holy grail’ and promised a ‘holy war’ if congressional opponents seek to repeal the mandate.

Two weeks later, King endorsed a candidate who is probably the biggest threat to the RFS of all the candidates, Republican or Democrat, running for president. There is little doubt, that if Cruz is president, there will not be a continuation of the RFS, and he probably would end it before it’s set to expire like the Obama administration has attempted to do in recent years.

King’s all in for Cruz, but he better hope Cruz returns the favor.

King has benefited greatly from all the candidates who have sought his endorsement for the past eight years. When he calls, candidates agree to headline fundraising events or participate in whatever event King is involved in. Doing so is mutually beneficial, but it’s not just the conservative candidates that have come to King’s aide.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie traveled to Iowa to headline an early fundraising event when King was being challenged by former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack for his Fourth District Congressional Seat. Donald Trump also headlined an event for King before his 2014 re-election, another campaign where King was being outspent by his Democrat opponent.

King represents the most Republican-leaning district in the state, and he has easily withstood the Democrats’ general election challenges in recent years, but King doesn’t make things easy for himself. As of September 30th, King had just $128,000 in the bank, and that’s after raising $123,000 for the quarter. King’s endorsement of Cruz seems like a no-brainer if you over-look Cruz’s immigration position in 2013 and his position on the RFS, but when King starts looking for some financial assistance, his Rolodex just shrunk exponentially.