February 1st, 2010

Debating Deace: So Much More Than You Hear on the Radio

Debating DeaceAs many of you know, Steve Deace is a personal friend of mine. The friendship is genuine. My wife and I have been to his home for dinner, I occasionally show up to his regular card game and I’ve even embarrassed myself while playing Rock Band with Iowa’s most controversial radio talk show host. From everything I’ve seen firsthand, Steve is a wonderful father and husband. His kids are adorable. Regardless of what you think about his politics and tactics, Steve Deace is a good man.

For the last couple of weeks, Steve and I have been at odds over political tactics. Our latest on and off-air spat was created by my reaction to the Iowa Family Policy Center’s endorsement of Bob Vander Plaats, which actually focused more on Terry Branstad’s 16 year record as governor than anything else.

Last week, Deace escalated our disagreement when he sent the following email to a number of conservatives that have been guests on his show.

Steve Deace:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am emailing all of you because since the 2008 election cycle you have appeared on our show and either been portrayed by me or yourselves as conservatives, and you’re still considered active in Iowa politics at the moment. One of the ongoing debates we’re having within our vast listening audience is what exactly is a conservative? I’d like to get each of your takes on this on the record for our blog by getting your answer to the following hypothetical question:

Hypothetical: A political candidate knocks on your door asking for your vote. You ask him what he stands for. He says he’ll raise taxes/fees 30 times, the sales tax by 60%, the gas tax by 5 cents a gallon, grow government bigger than the population rate, support state-sanctioned gambling, earn the endorsement of the liberal teachers unions, and appoint pro-abortion and pro-sodomy people to influential positions in the government. Would you vote for him?

I will post both a list of those we asked this survey question of, as well as the responses you send back to me verbatim, on Monday’s blog and we’ll be discussing it next week as well. Please email me your responses by 5 p.m. on Friday if you would like to participate. Thanks in advance and keep fighting the good fight!

The following is my initial response, followed by the back and forth between Steve and myself.
Craig Robinson:

I think these questions are fun.

Here is another one for you to consider.

Hypothetical: A political candidate knocks on your door asking for your vote. You have seen this guy hanging around for a number of years. You remember that he supported a tax increase on dirty magazines and videos but now doesn’t even want to consider raising taxes on casinos. He was for a 10% ethanol mandate before he was against it. In his last job where he served as the CEO/Chairman of the Board, he plunged the organization into debt, but despite being the highest paid official with the organization, the unpaid CEO is to blame. Finally, the entire focus on his campaign is to give the office of Governor more power. Would you vote for him?

I’m sure we can come up with good ones on Rants and Roberts too. Lots of material to work with. You know things like the Dream Act.

Steve Deace:


You didn’t answer the question.

I asked you a hypothetical question about a candidate’s record that could clearly be documented. Can you document the candidate in your hypothetical is guilty of the sort of corporate malfeasance you allege? I actually had the documentation Rants provided me (which you are referring to) looked at by a forensic auditor, I just haven’t told you or the audience that yet. Their conclusion was you can make the numbers say exactly what both Rants and Vander Plaats are alleging, it just comes down to if you buy Bob’s explanation the non profit suffered while he was running for governor as the rationale behind those dips. Not to mention the fact a guy that was the state auditor of Iowa for 20 years put his credibility on the line on a 50,000-watt radio station about those allegations. That’s a pretty credible witness in a court of law, let alone public opinion.

That said, if you have a more credible witness to the contrary, or the goods that a candidate currently running for office is guilty of what you’re alleging, I’ll give you all the air time you need on WHO to expose that. Especially considering the worst thing in the world for those of us who believe in Constitutional Rule of Law and Christian Morality is to have someone get elected on those issues who is that duplicitous. Who knows what damage he would do to our credibility while in office? Your wife deals with ethics in the legal profession for a living, so surely she can help steer you in the proper direction to move beyond snarky (which you know I love) innuendo and into separating fact from fiction before the primary, since afterwards you make get stuck with such a scoundrel representing your party at the top of the ballot.

Then there’s the fact that you worked for the Nussle Campaign in 2006, did you not? Were you a paid staffer for that campaign or a volunteer? Either way, if the candidate you’re clearly referring to is guilty of that sort of corporate malfeasance, explain to me how you can justify working to get him elected to the No. 2 position in the executive branch of the state government as recently as the previous gubernatorial election cycle?

If you don’t want to respond, I will be happy to post your initial reply as is on Monday.

Craig Robinson:


I refuse to answer your hypothetical question because I find it to be a worthless exercise since you don’t want to apply your standards to the candidate that you support, advise, and are personal friends with. The only reason I submitted a hypothetical of my own was to illustrate to you how someone can pull the negative things out of someone’s record and make that candidate seem totally unelectable. This is what all campaigns do. I’m used to it. My only purpose is to show you that you can do this with most candidate’s records.

I also would remind you, and a number of people on this email chain (and my wife for that matter), that you guys voted for a candidate who was in favor of higher income taxes, higher sales taxes, higher gas taxes, higher grocery taxes, higher tobacco taxes, higher beer taxes, higher Internet taxes, and higher nursing home bed taxes.

You voted for a candidate who was the ONLY Republican to speak to the NEA and later receive their endorsement.

You voted for a candidate who called No Child Left Behind “the greatest education reform effort by the federal government in my lifetime.” (Washington Times 03/01/05)

You voted for a candidate who supported amnesty and taxpayer-financed welfare and health care for illegal aliens.

What’s so ironic about your hypothetical question is that almost everything you take issue with in Branstad’s record are things that you either didn’t care about or chose to overlook in regards to Mike Huckabee. It looks like you have flip-flopped on these issues quicker than Mitt Romney ever could have.

In regards to Bob’s record as CEO/Chairman of the Board of Opportunities Unlimited, I don’t have to document the corporate malfeasance that I alleged because you just did it for me. Since your own forensic auditor says that the numbers can say want Rants said they did, then it not untrue. As for Auditor Johnson, the only numbers that he talked about while on the air where the years that Bob was the CEO, he did not comment on the years in which Bob was the Chairman of the Board. Additionally, I thought the reason why Opportunities Unlimited was in the red was because they were in the midst of a building campaign, not because Bob was running for office. I don’t think that is the rationale that he shared with your listeners.

I’m not being “snarky” at all. I’m simply asking you to apply the same standard to the candidate that you support as the ones that you take issue with.

Actually, I have never worked for Jim Nussle. I worked for a company that did work for Jim Nussle, but I have never been employed by Jim Nussle. I also don’t know if I can be called a volunteer either, since I was paid to attend campaign events and reimbursed for my expenses by my employer.

This past summer was the first time I have ever seen Opportunity Unlimited’s tax returns. I was made aware of that situation at the same time you were. Even if I had known about it and was disturbed with it, I did not hold any position with the [2006 Nussle/Vander Plaats]campaign. In 2006, my job required me to work with a number of clients that I might have had issues with.
Unfortunately, you have put me in a position where you are forcing me to defend a candidate that I don’t necessary support. Believe it or not, I’m only trying to be objective in pointing out that anyone’s record can be spun and manipulated into looking bad. I think it would serve you well to be able to look at things objectively too.

Steve Deace:

First of all, Ed is correct. Craig’s reply is very good, I just don’t agree it’s good for the same reasons Ed probably does.

The reason Craig’s reply is good is because based on what he wrote it’s obvious he has put some thought behind what he is advocating, and is clearly wrestling with the fact he’s seeing people he respects split apart and is trying to figure out if this marriage can be saved. On that level, I owe Craig an apology, because I didn’t have enough faith in him as my friend and immediately assumed that if he didn’t draw the same conclusion as me, it must mean it’s because he’s just not as convicted. I apologize for being self-righteous.

However, this is the second time that Craig has questioned the motives of his friends, first those at IFPC and now me. He’s right. I do consider Bob Vander Plaats to be a friend and we do have a personal relationship. I’m pretty sure I haven’t hidden that from the audience because I think it’s fair you know my biases before hearing my opinions. However, I also think its fair for me to question Craig’s motives in kind. Who is he supporting? What is motivating him? Does he have something personal against Bob? Is there a reason his website attracts people in the comments section that openly express disdain for Bob and Christian Conservatives in general? Those are all fair, and largely unanswered, questions. That said I also have a personal relationship with Jonathan Narcisse that is deeper and longer than the one I have Bob, and I’m not pimping his potential gubernatorial bid at the moment. Why? Because I don’t think Jonathan understands the nuances of the Constitution, courts, and what’s at stake on this issue as well as Bob does, and it’s my #1 issue.

It appears, Craig, that the premise of your argument is that those who refuse to support Terry Branstad are holding him to a standard they haven’t been willing to hold others to in the past, and you can’t figure out why they’re making this guy out to be the devil when it’s so obvious the guy with the pitched fork already lives at Terrace Hill.

If that is your argument, there is no question that your observation is correct. Branstad is being held to a standard we haven’t always held others. In fact, I will accept the point of your arguments against me pertaining to my previous support of Mike Huckabee. I could quibble with some points (like Huckabee was never endorsed by the Arkansas Education Association as governor, in fact they hated him; and his overall record as Arkansas governor is more conservative than Branstad’s which I’m sure even you would agree with), yet are there several things Huckabee did as governor that I would’ve opposed had I been in Arkansas at that time?

Absolutely, so me splitting hairs with you is a moot point.

Did I overlook those things when he was running for president? Yes and no. Some I knew and rationalized that they weren’t that bad, and some I didn’t until after the fact. I still believe I may have voted for the right guy in those Caucuses, but I may have done so out of the wrong premise. Mitt Romney represented a level of moral compromise at every level that everyone on this list knows is indefensible, which is why no one has taken me up on my offer to get me to resign if I lied about his record. Nevertheless, instead of taking the high road I played defense and selected a less flawed “hero” to confront the obvious “villain.”

In other words, I went for the lesser of two evils.

On some level we’ll always choose the lesser of two evils this side of Heaven, because all creation groans with sin. Every one of us on this list is evil on some level, very much including me. It’s Jesus that makes all things new, not us. At best we get to occupy until He comes.

I love Mike Huckabee as a person, and at times I’ve even found him an inspiring figure. We still communicate some times to this day (although some of my communications urging him to do better and be bolder he probably doesn’t like). Yet I lost my critical thinking over that campaign, and often made the right points for the wrong reasons, and became very much like that I was attacking. In short, I was guilty of hypocrisy.

This is why I have told Mike Huckabee personally, and expressed on the air, that should he run for president again it’s going to take a different and bolder candidate than the one we saw last time to satisfy voters like me. We want leaders, not just more winsome cliché givers or less morally compromised candidates than the establishment offers up. Our republic is falling apart, and I go home most nights from my job wondering what kind of civilization we’re going to leave for our kids. We’re now at such a dire point that simply re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic isn’t good enough. The Left is moving with such ferocity, such relentlessness, that it requires a response in kind from us that is better than “just win baby.

The question was “would you vote” for the candidate in question, not “have you voted” for him. There is a reason for that. All of us on this list have voted for candidates like that, and the only reason I didn’t vote for Branstad in 1994 is because I wasn’t able to vote in Iowa then. Those on this list who have told me they wouldn’t vote for that candidate now are claiming they have learned from the past, as am I, and it remains to be seen if we remain vigilant in that effort. Our credibility is on the line, too.

Nevertheless, the hypothetical question is a paradox. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what conclusion you ended up with as much as it does how you came to that conclusion. Craig, given his response, appears to be thinking it out, albeit drawing a conclusion I don’t agree with. It appears given Kent Sorenson and Iowa Family PAC’s recent statement they have done the same, whether you agree with their conclusions or not. What concerns me is that out of paralyzing nostalgia for a bygone era and/or the emotional desire to win we are making the same mistakes all over again that led to us being here in the first place.

This is why I wrote this piece six months ago: Frankly, given his stature, he probably ought to be the boldest of the candidates. He really has no one to answer to at this point in his life and can call his own shot. I wanted to see if Mr. Branstad was running on nostalgia, or because he was a man on mission who gave up a lucrative job to go back and finish the job he started before. Given the fact exactly none of these issues our listeners care so much about have been addressed by his campaign, I unfortunately think we have our answer.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of allowing the candidates to set the agenda, why don’t you set the agenda? Why don’t you lead for a change? For example:

• Matt Strawn…why don’t you organize a series of gubernatorial and congressional debates across Iowa allowing your candidates in these primaries to openly discuss with your voters how they plan to lead Iowa into the 21st century? Then, after a fair and honest debate with Republican voters, you’re perfectly within the boundaries of integrity to say I respect the decision of Republican voters who made that decision after an open and vigorous debate, so RPI will work hard to elect the candidates they have selected after a transparent process. Are you the party chairman or the party orderly? You’re too successful at such a young age to be that compliant. Lead my friend, before it’s too late and defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory yet again.

• Ed Failor, Jr….why not have similar candidate forums in Sioux City, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines to allow these candidates to explain their record and plans to make Iowa a low-tax, pro-growth state that creates new jobs? This could be a fundraiser for ITR, and one for RPI in Strawn’s case as well.

• Kim Lehman & Steve Scheffler…same suggestion to you. These are opportunities to let the voters hear an honest and open discussion between the candidates, and raise money and generate publicity for your issues/organizations.

Why aren’t we doing these things? I can tell you why my grassroots listeners think you don’t. They think you don’t because behind the scenes you’re playing favorites, stacking the deck for your favorites because you’re funded by the same people funding them, and that the current paradigm of letting that uneven playing field work itself out and then supporting whatever lukewarm candidate that gets served up out of that witch’s brew is a total and complete copout, and that’s why there’s more registered Independents in Iowa and nationwide than Republicans. These people do not trust you, because if they did I wouldn’t have survived on the radio saying what I’ve been saying for as long as I have. They don’t believe you’re being honest with them. They believe you’re helping candidates cover up their records, and that as long as they’re a Republican it doesn’t matter what they believe. These people want to know why have a platform at all then? And they’re tired of electing Republicans who talk tough on the campaign trail and negotiate evil down with the Democrats once in office. These are their perceptions, whether they’re factually true or not.

In short, the Republican Party’s credibility is shot.

All of you on this email list I have either love, respect, hope or fondness for on some level (or all of the above in several cases). And yes, that even includes you, Doug. J I don’t agree with you, but you don’t duck a fight and I respect that. And just so you know up front, I’m going to try to sell you on the executive order when we have lunch next week.

To all of you on this list I want you know I’m not trying to win an argument with you. I am trying to start one.

We all know the definition of insanity. What we have done before hasn’t worked, so why do that whole my team vs. your team emotion-based loser again? I’d like to find out why before my grandkids grow up in a civilization that thinks there is no god but Allah, pedophiles and polygamists acquire the same freedoms homosexuals are now winning, and the U.S. dollar is traded in for the North American Currency.

Thank you for your replies to my question as well as the times you have appeared on our show to speak to our audience. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of an honest evaluation about who we are, what we believe, and how we got here in the first place. I’m sorry it’s so long, but it’s from me. What did you expect? J

P.S…Craig, you’re correct about Bob’s explanation. My recollection of his explanation was wrong. Also, you have told me on several occasions you were “with” the Nussle Campaign in 2006. If I have misunderstood what you meant by that I apologize for that, too.

I did not respond to Steve’s last email response.

Steve took offense because he believes that I’m questioning his motives. I’m not, I’m questioning his tactics and asking him to show some consistency in the candidates that he supports or attacks. Steve asked who I was supporting. I’m not supporting any particular candidate. I offer analysis of every candidate’s campaign. That’s my role in the process.

Steve also asked if I have something personal against Bob. I do not. I have given the Vander Plaats campaign a lot of coverage. I spent the better part of day with Vander Plaats last spring. I’ve attended a number of his press conferences and traveled to Lake Okoboji to cover his big event with Mike Huckabee. I think the coverage on has been fair to all candidates. I understand that candidates might not agree with my analysis, but that’s all that it is, my analysis.

As for the comment section on the site, that is something that is beyond my control. I invite everyone to participate. As for what motivates me, I have always been passionate about Iowa politics. It is why I chose to work on a caucus campaign after graduating from college. It is why I’ve stayed involved for more than a decade.

What troubles me about Steve’s response is that he quickly tosses aside the fact that he supported a candidate less than two years who has a similar record to his hypothetical candidate which we all know is Terry Branstad. I admire Steve’s convictions on the issues of life and marriage. Those two issues are at the foundation of his political ideology. What I find odd is that Deace, IFPC, and Rep. Kent Sorenson have not stuck to Deace’s non-negotiable argument when dealing with Branstad. Instead, they have all made a point to criticize Terry Branstad on fiscal issues.

The problem that Deace and other Huckabee supporters now must confront is that they are attacking Branstad for doing things that Mike Huckabee did when he was governor. In politics, it’s important to always stay on message. Thus far, Deace and IFPC have not shown much discipline in that department.

What we now see is that a couple of years ago Deace defended Huckabee’s record on taxes and overlooked the NEA endorsement he received, but in the next election, he is criticizing a candidate with a similar record. Making matters worse, he is making Branstad’s record some sort of litmus test that all conservatives and candidates must pass. Yet, he would have failed this test during the last presidential caucuses.

In December of 2007 Deace told his audience, “I hold my side and my views to at least as high of standard as I do my own.” That is all I’m asking him to do now. Mike Huckabee’s record on taxes wasn’t important to Deace in 2008. Neither was the endorsement he received from the NEA. Steve Deace and 40,953 other Iowans found it okay to overlook Huckabee’s record on a number of issues for the caucuses, so how can they now belittle or dismiss a candidate with the same record?

As for the issues of life and marriage, those are a different story. Branstad is pro-life and supports traditional marriage. He has said such numerous times. Does Branstad share the same worldview as people like Steve Deace? No, I don’t think he does. If Steve Deace wants to point that out to people, I think that’s fair and consistent with what he’s advocated for on the radio since June of 2006.

If he now wants to attack a particular candidate for having a record that is almost identical to someone who he supported enthusiastically just a few years ago, then he should get a job in politics, because that’s what political hacks do. Steve Deace is acting just like the political hacks he says he can’t stand.

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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