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December 3rd, 2011

King and Vander Plaats Have No Other Option but to Endorse

When you survey the political landscape and study the multiple polls that have been conducted over the last six months, the uncertainty of the race for the Republican presidential nomination would give any would-be endorser heartburn.

An uncertain field of candidates, combined with a later start to the caucus campaign season, has created a caucus cycle where more people are undecided or soft supporters than we have ever seen. While Iowa caucuses goers have been slow to throw their support behind a candidate, so too have two of the state’s most recognizable conservative leaders, Congressman Steve King and Bob Vander Plaats of The FAMiLY Leader.

Before one can even weigh in on whether or not King and Vander Plaats should endorse, one needs to first understand why their endorsements matter in the first place. When it comes to Republican caucus politics, endorsements don’t mean much. While every candidate would love to have the endorsement of Governor Branstad or Senator Grassley, their endorsement provides a positive press story for a day or so and little else. Simply put, an endorsement by either of them isn’t going to convince any Iowa Republican I know to support a particular candidate.

King and Vander Plaats are different because their endorsement means something. Getting the nod from King is like placing the Good Housekeeping Seal of approval on a candidate. It reassures voters that a particular candidate is undoubtedly conservative and will advance the conservative cause. Vander Plaats represents a group of people who seek purity on social conservative issues. While maybe not huge in number, the passion and dedication of these people can make a huge impact in a caucus contest.

Luke 12:48 – “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked”

With their position as caucus kingmakers, King and Vander Plaats receive an enormous amount of media attention during the caucus cycle. Beyond that, both have encouraged the candidates to attend their events and sign pledges, which most have gladly done. King has also been given the opportunity to participate in or moderate forums that involved presidential candidates in Iowa and in other states.

There is no problem with King and Vander Plaats making the presidential candidates jump through a series of hoops, but for them to hold out the idea that they will endorse and then ultimately not do so sends a terrible message to future candidates. Iowans up look to King and Vander Plaats as leaders. Their silence would be deafening, especially in their local caucuses. Can you imagine King and Vander Plaats sitting silently in their local caucus while a schoolteacher or librarian stands up to advocate on behalf of his or her candidate? I can’t. As Vander Plaats likes to say, “Leaders lead.” He needs to follow his own advice, and so should King.

Much has been entrusted to King and Vander Plaats, so, much, much more is required of them, even if it is difficult to do. Sitting out is not an option when you rail on candidates for not participating in you events like Vander Plaats did last month.

It’s not about the candidates, it’s about the issues and principles for which these leaders have advocated in their lives and in their campaigns.

While the media likes to make endorsements about horserace politics, a candidate’s standing in the polls should have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they are worthy of being endorsed. What kind of message will be sent if candidates like Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, two candidates who don’t have a negative blemish on their records, are not worthy to receive the endorsement of one of Iowa’s conservative leaders? It means that a candidate’s worldview or core convictions don’t matter as much as their current poll numbers do.

Both King and Vander Plaats were never the frontrunners in their own initial campaigns for office, so why can they now judge a candidate’s viability based on a metric they would fail to meet themselves? King and Vander Plaats need to recognize that their clout comes from what they believe and fight for, not their win/loss record in supporting candidates.

Four years ago, Congressman King held a major press conference in Des Moines to announce who he would support. This cycle, Bob Vander Plaats has made it abundantly clear that he too is in the endorsement business. While it is always nice to support a candidate who goes all the way or wins the Iowa caucuses, both King and Vander Plaats need to be reminded that their clout in the Republican caucuses does not come from backing candidates who win, but by being steadfast on the issues for which they advocate.

In the end, it’s not “should King or Vander Plaats endorse,” it’s when.

Iowans are privileged to be able to have their voices heard first in telling the rest of the county who should be our next president. All Iowans should embrace the caucus process, especially those of us who personally benefit from them occurring in our home state. We must remember Iowa’s role is not to support a candidate we think has the best chance at winning the nomination, but to select a candidate who best represents us.

When you are in the endorsement business, you are inevitably going to make someone unhappy, but people will be equally unhappy if they don’t endorse. As is the case in any presidential election, people demand to see leadership from their candidates. They also demand leadership from those among our own ranks who have been the torchbearers for our conservative ideals.

Photo by Dave Davidson,

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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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