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An Interview with The Most Wanted Endorsement of 2016


If you’ve ever seriously considered running for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, chances are you’re on a first-name basis with Bob Vander Plaats in Iowa.

Vander Plaats, 52, is the president of the Family Leader. By far the largest conservative advocacy organization in the first in the nation caucus state. But what he’s primarily known for nationally is defying the odds with what conventional wisdom deemed as lost causes at the time.

In 2008, Vander Plaats supported a little-known former governor of Arkansas named Mike Huckabee – at a time he was at 1% in the polls. Huckabee went on to receive the most votes any candidate ever has in the Iowa Caucuses.

In 2010, he launched an unprecedented effort to oust three State Supreme Court Justices up for retention after they attempted to redefine marriage (and illegally amend the state constitution) from the bench. The know-it-all class thought there was no chance at success, but for the first time in American history it did and the justices were fired by the voters.

Then a month before the 2012 Iowa Caucuses, Vander Plaats endorsed and put his network behind Rick Santorum when he was at only 3% in the polls. A month later, Santorum received 25% of the vote and won the Iowa Caucuses.

With a track record of conservative mobilization like that, it’s no wonder the 2016 GOP candidates, their staffs, and even the media covering the campaign have Vander Plaats’ number on speed dial. This seems like a good time to disclose the two of us have been good friends for years, and it’s precisely because I got to know and respect him through these success stories.

I sat down with Vander Plaats for this Q-and-A just as his nationally-televised Family Leadership Summit which included most of the 2016 field had concluded, and the first official debate of the primary was about to take place.

1. What was the biggest reason why you endorsed the last two Iowa Caucus winners at a time when few gave them a chance to win?

Simply put, I looked for character, trust, and the ability to be a pro-family standard bearer. We put our principles first, and then worried about winning the election from there. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “First you win the debate and then you win the vote.”

2. How much do you think your endorsement helped to catapult Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum to victory?

Both of these two did the hard work to win Iowa. They got to know Iowans, and let Iowans get to know them. If they hadn’t done that they wouldn’t have won regardless of my endorsement. They deserve credit for that. My endorsement merely provided a seal of approval to our base. Our base is expected to have an independent voice. That being said, we strive hard to earn their trust with demonstrated integrity.

3. Do you think your influence is overstated? Why or why not?

My influence is overstated, but our bases’ influence is understated. Given the heightened threat to our families and our free exercise of faith and belief, I firmly anticipate our bases’ impact on the election process in the caucus and general election will prove to be exponential.

4. You often talk about the distinction between being a kingmaker and a standard bearer. Can you explain what you mean by that?

A kingmaker seeks victory and a personal seat at a coveted table. A standard bearer also seeks victory but is most concerned with his principles (in this case our pro-family standards) being center stage versus any personal gain.

5. How is the environment in Iowa different for 2016 than it was in 2008 and 2012?

People are sick and tired of politics as usual. They hunger for conservative authenticity that will win and truly lead by placing timeless principles and the cause of Faith, Family, and Freedom above partisan politics.

6. What are the biggest issues motivating conservatives in Iowa?

After the Supreme Court’s unconstitutional marriage opinion:

1) Definition if marriage

2) Separation of Powers

3) Religious Liberty

After President Obama’s unconscionable and unilateral Iran Deal:

1) Israel

2) Islamic State

3) Border Security

7. Evangelicals made up at least 60% of the Iowa Caucus turnout four years ago. Donald Trump is the current leader in the polls. If the caucuses were today, do you believe he would actually get substantial evangelical support?

No, but I do believe Iowans and Americans are sending a clear message through Mr. Trump. That message is this: heartfelt, non-scripted leadership that is bold and courageous is what we want.

If no candidate steps up and embraces this type of leadership then my “no” turns to a “yes” and they would support Trump. This is why we must nominate a courageous conservative. If we don’t, the people will still support Trump. Can the establishment spell “Independent?”

8. Speaking of polls, how come the summertime polls of Iowa are often way off compared to the actual vote?

Early polls are based on name identification and the so-called “flavor of the month.” To win Iowa, one needs a consistent build of message, money and organization. These three must be managed strategically so a candidate’s peaking occurs when Iowans are making their decision. Iowa breaks late.

9. I recently wrote a column that predicted one of these four men would eventually win Iowa based on history, current environment on the ground, organizational strength, and message: Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker. Do you agree or disagree with that assessment?

While recognizing that anything can change I agree. That being said, I would also add Bobby Jindal to that list as the potential Huckabee-Santorum surprise.

10. Have you finalized a timetable for making an endorsement yet? What will be the major factors you will consider when choosing whom to endorse?

My hope is to endorse and weigh in with everything I have around Thanksgiving. I will assess the candidate’s character, competency, company and cash (or resources to win beyond Iowa). I truly believe if we unite, we will secure the nomination and, ultimately, the presidency with a pro-family standard bearer who is unabashedly a courageous, full spectrum conservative leader.

First published at Conservative Review


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