The Family Leader Summit

santorum

By Steve Deace

Between my duties and opportunities as an exhibitor, speaker, and attendee, I was privy to the full experience that was the 2013 Leadership Summit held by The Family Leader over the weekend.

This is the second year for this event hosted in the first in the nation caucus state, and it was bigger and better than last year’s. The host facility said approximately 2,000 people attended the event. To put that in perspective for a local event, according to The Washington Times fewer than 400 people attended the national Faith & Freedom Coalition Conference in Washington, D.C. held back in June. That tells me that while faith in impacting the system from inside the beltway is on the rightfully on the wane, the grassroots is alive and well.

This year’s event was also sponsored by several national conservative heavyweights, including the Heritage Foundation, National Organization for Marriage, Concerned Women for America, and Citizens United. The massive media presence given it’s only August of 2013 was confirmation of the event’s potential. Throw in the fact it was held in Ames on the same weekend as the vaunted Iowa Straw Poll has been traditionally held, and it’s obvious this event is well-positioned to take its place should the GOP establishment succeed in killing the Iowa Straw Poll.

Frankly, I think that’s a fool’s errand for the GOP establishment. If you’re concerned about conservatives out-organizing your candidates, why cancel the Iowa Straw Poll and allow conservatives to have their own exclusive solo event that makes it even easier for them to organize? And if you think the media won’t pay attention to it, then you weren’t paying attention to all the media in attendance on Saturday. It makes absolutely no sense to me, but what do I know? I can’t boast Karl Rove’s 1% success rate from last year’s election.

But that is a topic for another day.

For now here are some of my thoughts on the event:

The biggest ovation I heard throughout the day went to Pastor Rafael Cruz, the father of U.S. Senate Ted Cruz, as he was leaving the stage following his fiery talk encouraging the church in America to take the lead in preserving liberty, just as it did at the dawn of liberty during the founding of the country in the first place. Senator Cruz got the second biggest ovation of the day as he was entering the auditorium. I counted three standing ovations in his first five minutes or so.

“I can see why you like him,” my always cynical wife said after Cruz’s speech. That’s high praise coming from her.

Senator Cruz gave the sort of presidential stump speech Mitt Romney should’ve given during last year’s presidential campaign but never did. If he’s not running for president there will be a lot of people disappointed, including me

Before you ask that’s not an endorsement of him as a candidate – at least not yet – but an endorsement of his potential candidacy. We certainly need someone with his depth of knowledge on a full spectrum of issues, as well as his willingness to play offense, on a national stage. Whether or not he could withstand the scrutiny of the competition in a presidential campaign remains to be seen, but given the enthusiastic reaction Senator Cruz received from Iowans I’m certainly not alone in wanting to find out.

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I thought 2012 Iowa Caucus winner Rick Santorum made three of the most substantively important points of the day.

First, Santorum correctly pointed out that until the Republican Party embraces grassroots Americana again it won’t win national elections. We cannot win an election that is simply a battle of dueling self-interests—Wall Street vs. the Welfare State. That plays right into the emotional argument we always lose. Right-wing populism, in which less government is the catalyst for upward economic mobility, is always a winning message for the Republican Party when it communicates it credibly and follows through with it on the policy side.

Second, Santorum also discussed how important it is to engage popular culture, which has become the most powerful and influential platform in America today. He is correct that politics flows downstream from culture. Culture is the mouth of the river. Our politics won’t definitively change unless our culture does.

Finally, Santorum echoed something I have been saying for years—our principles mustn’t change by our tactics must. Namely we must become much more aggressive in pursuing our principles. We’re too nice. We’re too willing to let the Left frame the argument. We’re too willing to argue their assumptions. We need to be more aggressive and less compromising in pursuing our principles. Those who believe in Judeo-Christian morality out-number the homosexual movement by at least 100-to-1, but we’re getting our backsides handed to us right now because the other side – to its credit – has more courage of conviction.

Santorum is one of those guys that lack the charisma you’re looking for, but also gives you the kind of substance that has you wanting more when he’s done.

I didn’t hear Donald Trump’s speech. By then it had been a long day for our family and we needed some dinner. But I did have a chance to meet him backstage. He was very down to earth, cordial, and approachable. Based on what I’ve heard he plans on being a major player in national GOP politics even if he never runs for president.

Though Rand Paul was unable to accept an invitation to speak at the event because of a prior family commitment, he was responsible for one of the moments that most stood out to me.

I had the pleasure of moderating a media roundtable featuring former presidential campaign aide (to Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Michele Bachmann) turned talk show host Alice Stewart, nationally-syndicated talk radio host Kevin McCullough, legendary 1040-WHO’s living legend Jan Mickelson. When I asked each of them to give me their immediate reaction to Rand Paul as a potential presidential candidate none of them embraced the idea. Not even Mickelson, who was a Ron Paul supporter for years.

“A car with too many bumper stickers on it,” said Stewart, referring to Rand’s attempts to expand his father’s libertarian base by reaching out to other segments of the party.

True, this was an event almost entirely comprised of social conservatives and not traditional libertarians. But keep in mind that a large bloc of Ron Paul’s support in Iowa has come from social conservatives who also care about the growth of government and the loss of civil liberties, with Mickelson being a primary example. Perhaps conventional wisdom that Rand would just automatically inherit his father’s Iowa Caucus base to build from there is premature?

Every member of our media roundtable also thought the future of the Republican Party was on shaky ground at best. So while it seems as if those who believe in the values that gave birth to American Exceptionalism aren’t planning on abandoning the public square anytime soon, they may soon be willing to abandon the GOP if it continues on the road to nowhere it’s currently on.

(You can friend “Steve Deace” on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow)