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June 25th, 2013

Vander Plaats Makes a Play for Ames

Iowa Republicans are used to making a pilgrimage to Iowa State University in Ames on the second Saturday of August.  Yes, it’s typically hot.  And yes, it also conflicts with the first weekend of the Iowa State Fair, but for one reason or another the August heat, national politics, and the Iowa State Fair have long been a good mix.

While the Iowa Straw Poll historically takes place on the grounds of Iowa State University every four or eight years in early August, Bob Vander Plaats and The FAMiLY Leader are hoping that the date works in their favor for their FAMiLY Leadership Summit.  From the looks of the lineup of speakers that are committed to attending the event on August 10th, the Summit will be the largest political event in Iowa in 2013.

Already confirmed to attend the event are 2012 Caucus winner Rick Santorum, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump.  The Leadership Summit is also being co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, the National Organization for Marriage, and Citizens United.   The event will also feature Dr. Del Tackett, the architect of Focus on the Family’s “Truth Project.”  Additional prominent speakers will be announced in the coming days and weeks.

In recent days, Vander Platts has been criticized for hosting Trump by Kevin Hall, a writer on this website, and by other Iowa blogs as well.  While on its face, Trump seems like an odd fit for a social conservative confab, these critics fail to see the larger picture of what Vander Plaats may be trying to accomplish in Ames.

Lately, we have a situation in our state where Republicans often criticize our own state party officials for not being more inclusive or open to the differing views within the party.  Yet, now we seem to be condemning Vander Plaats for being inclusive of those he doesn’t necessarily agree with.  The implication is that Christians should only associate with perfect or nearly perfect people. Last I checked, churches are not just for those of us who have been saved, but more importantly, they are for those who are looking for direction in their lives.

Some may react to Trump’s presence at the FAMiLY Leadership Summit like the town drunk walking into church on Sunday morning, but again, while the town drunk makes the regulars a little uncomfortable, he also challenges their understanding of their own faith. Trump’s presence may only solidify his detractor’s beliefs that he’s bad news.  He might simply provide a contrast to someone like Rick Santorum, which might only solidify Santorum’s supporters.  Either way, having someone like Trump there challenges our beliefs and makes us think about why we believe what we believe.

Let’s also not forget that Donald Trump attending a gathering of social conservatives is nothing new.  Trump has spoken at CPAC on a couple of occasions and has also headlined Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington D.C., an event where he has shared the same stage with potential presidential contenders.

Regardless of one’s opinion of Trump, there is no doubt that he will help attract a different crowd than Vander Plaats is used to drawing.  So, while it seems odd that Trump would be invited to a Summit that will explore the conservative worldview, his attendance will allow the FAMiLY Leader to challenge those who may not necessarily be open to attending events sponsored by The FAMiLY Leader.  Trump will help draw new attendees to the event and expose them to a conservative worldview.

To the chagrin of many Republican insiders, Vander Plaats has become a major player in presidential politics in the state.  Not only has he backed the last two winners of the Iowa Caucuses, but most of the presidential candidates felt compelled to participate in the FAMiLY Leader’s presidential lecture series and other events.  The fact that Vander Plaats has continued to be able to persuade high profile Republican leaders to attend his event is a testament to his influence over the caucus process and social conservative issues in the state.

Vander Plaats didn’t pick and choose who could attend the presidential lecture series.  It was open to all candidates.  Ron Paul participated despite his liberal views on issues like drugs and prostitution.  Paul even said that the Iowa Supreme Court was justified in its ruling in Varnum v. Brien, which brought gay marriage to the state.  Vander Plaats welcomed Newt Gingrich warmly at the FAMiLY Leader events in 2011 despite Newt being on his third marriage.  The list could go on and on.

As one of the few presidential power brokers in Iowa, Vander Plaats is smart to invite those who are considering making a run for president in 2016.  All serious candidates have the right to be heard, not just those who he may agree with on most issues.  The fact that so many prominent Republicans have agreed to attend the event only confirms Vander Plaats’ and the FAMiLY Leader’s significance in the caucus process.

The fact that Vander Plaats has chosen to hold his event on the same weekend as the Iowa Straw Poll is traditionally held should not be overlooked.  With the future of that event uncertain, Vander Plaats seems to already be making a play to fill the void should the Iowa Straw Poll cease to exist.  If that is his motive, then inviting Trump makes even more sense.

Despite what you may think of Vander Plaats, the FAMiLY Leader’s Leadership Summit is the most impressive political event that will take place in Iowa this year.  Where else will one be able to see a number of potential presidential candidates share the same stage?  Where else will groups like the Heritage Foundation, National Organization for Marriage, and Citizens United all participate in the same event?

Once again Ames, Iowa, will be in the national spotlight.  I guess some things never change.




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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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