Ted Cruz The FAMiLY Leadership Summit
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at The FAMiLY Leadership Summit in Ames, IA.
Ted Cruz The FAMiLY Leadership Summit
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at The FAMiLY Leadership Summit in Ames, IA.

(Ames, IA) Social conservatives and evangelicals were able to preview some members of a prospective 2016 Republican field, as well as, receive worldview training.  2012 Iowa Caucus winner Rick Santorum, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Donald Trump addressed conservatives who gathered at Stephenson Auditorium on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames.

A recap of the event:

This was the 2nd Annual FAMiLY Leadership Summit hosted by The FAMiLY Leader, in partnership with ActRight.com, Alliance Defending Freedom, CitizenLink, Citizens United, Heritage Action for America, and National Organization for Marriage.  The FAMiLY Leader reported that 2000 tickets were scanned.  Last year the Summit was held at Point of Grace Church in Waukee, IA that has a capacity of 900.  Stephenson Auditorium has a capacity of 2700-2800.  Greg Baker with The FAMiLY Leader told Caffeinated Thoughts that they hope to continue holding the Summit there in the near future since there is room to grow.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was the first of many speakers in the line-up.  Grassley said regarding the different issues of concern for the group gathered that the defense of the Constitution was paramount.  “If we defend the constitution, all of those things will take care of themselves,” Grassley said.

Grassley also noted that progressive thought is flawed because he said it ignores truth.  He added that evangelicals and social conservatives must challenge the postmodern culture that young people are immersed in.  “Truth must prevail,” Grassley said.  “Truth is truth even if no one believes it.  Falsehood is falsehood even if everyone believes it.”

Christian actor Stephen Baldwin also spoke.  His challenge was for Christians to stand up for their faith where ever they may be.  “God has an expectation for us to stand up for our faith,” Baldwin said.  He added, however, that change in society and ourselves can not happen through human effort.  “It is only by the Spirit of God that the change we hope for will come,” Baldwin added.


Congressman Steve King (R-IA) gave tribute to the late Colonel Bud Day (USAF) a Medal of Honor winner who was a Sioux City native who recently passed away.  Like Senator Grassley, he also tailored his message for the group.  King cited the influence of Judeo-Christian thought within our founding.  “Without reason and without God’s law we wouldn’t have Western civilization or the United States,” King said.

He also challenged pastors to exercise their freedom of speech in the pulpit.  “If you are a 501(c)3 and you are afraid of the IRS, go ahead and defy the IRS,” King added.


Iowa Caucus winner Rick Santorum spoke in the morning and his message echoed a speech he gave in Lyon County the Thursday before.  Santorum said he came back to Iowa to say thank you to those who helped him run a successful campaign in Iowa and to encourage Iowans in their role of vetting presidential candidates with Iowa’s first in the nation status.  “I have a lot of faith in the people of Iowa in 2016 and beyond to get to know the candidates,” Santorum said.

Like Thursday he focused on the Republican Party messaging.  “We should celebrate the job holders not just job creators,” Santorum said.  “We need to reject this idea that if we just build the economy that all boats will rise.”

He also noted that change in our culture will not come from politics.  “It is no wonder children are adopting the other side because they do not know the truth.  If we are going to be successful we need to have a revitalized culture,” Santorum said.  He said conservatives must engage culture through the arts and media.  Santorum recently was named CEO of a faith-based film company, EchoLight Studios.  He said conservatives shouldn’t change their policies, but do need to change their tactics.


There was mixed reaction to Santorum’s appeal for Republicans to change their messaging.  “I think he (Santorum) is right on.  Conservatives come from all walks of life and it is important we are sharing our message with everyone,” said State Senator Joni Ernst (R-Red Oak) who is currently running for U.S. Senate.

Joel Kurtinitis of West Des Moines, a member of the Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee, agreed that Republicans need to change their message, but he disagreed with Santorum’s approach.  “I think the Democrats are the party of class warfare and have spent decades trying to demonize the rich and placate the ‘working class’ by promising to persecute the successful. I think we need to emphasize opportunity regardless of class. America has no need of more laborers. We have a shortage of entrepreneurs – mostly because we have failed to praise success. What we need to emphasize is that, in a free society, when some are successful, all prosper,” Kurtinitis said.

E.M. Leonard, also of West Des Moines, agreed with Santorum.  “… giving the liberal media a hammer like a ‘47%’ comment to beat Republicans over the head with has to be something in the rear-view mirror. The conservative movement needs to be a champion of the working class. It needs to capture the imaginations of all Americans to dream of upward mobility once again in the manner that Reagan so ably communicated. It’s basically a populist approach. It’s just a proven strategy to appeal to the majority of the public. ‘Messaging’ has been atrocious as of late, mostly because messengers have been atrocious.”

Del Tackett author of The Truth Project provided worldview training during the morning session.  Tackett pointed out that mankind is a product of a “great Creator.”  “When we deny that reality – that is the definition of insanity,” Tackett pointed out.

He warned that consequences of defying God’s physical design are stark.  “It can’t be twisted into something mankind wants without consequences,” Tackett said.  “It’s time for the people of this great nation to say no to enslavement and no to dependence,” he added.

Bob Vander Plaats, President and CEO of The FAMiLY Leader, told Caffeinated Thoughts that he was pleased with how the event turned out.  He especially liked Tackett’s message.  “If we could bottle Tackett’s message and send it to every church.  I don’t know how you can argue with that,” he said.


Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds and Governor Terry Branstad closed out the morning session.  This is the first event by The FAMiLY Leader that Branstad had spoken at.  Branstad and Vander Plaats have had a contentious relationship since the hotly contested gubernatorial Republican primary both men ran in.   They both have also had public disagreements since on matters of policy.  Branstad’s appearance was significant sign of bridge building and the men shook hands after the Governor’s speech.

Reynolds who introduced Branstad shared with the audience her recent experience going on a missions trip to South Africa to work with Blessman Ministries with her husband Kevin.  She also encouraged the pro-life audience, “We are here to walk with you on the side of life,” Reynolds said.

Branstad pointed out the importance of families.  “Families are the building blocks to building a strong state,” Branstad said.  He highlighted his record as governor: erasing all of the job losses that occurred during the Culver administration, his emphasis on education reform including loosening homeschooling laws and his emphasis on STEM.  He pointed out the tax cut he signed into law that would provide property tax relief for Iowans.   He said Iowa is currently only spending 97% of its revenue, and his administration is paying down the debt from former Governor Culver’s iJobs program.  “The federal government can learn from us,” Branstad added.


The afternoon session featured a speech by Joe Miller a former U.S. Senate candidate in Alaska.  Miller told Caffeinated Thoughts that he attended last year’s Summit, and was visiting Iowa because of friends that he has in Iowa and also had campaign supporters from the state as well.  “I don’t have any ulterior motives,” Miller said.


Iowa Native and Senior Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, David Napier, spoke highlighting how “gay rights” and religious liberty have been in conflict.  “They want to silence Christians, and what we want is a real debate from all people,” he said.

“The opposition has gone beyond toleration to wanting cooperation and subordination,” Napier added.

David Noebel, founder of Summit Ministries spoke on worldviews in collision.  He said that Americans can see a preview of what is ahead by looking at Europe.  “Secular humanism is subverting all of Europe,” he said and he warned that the United States is next.

“Western Judeo-Christian culture is collapsing not because it failed, but because we are abandoning it,” Noebel said.


The afternoon session also highlighted a media panel moderated by Steve Deace with Jan Mickelson of WHO Radio, Alice Stewart, and Kevin McCullough.   Brian Brown from the National Organization of Marriage spoke next.

“The state does not have a right to create out of thin air this new way to define marriage,” Brown claimed.  He expressed concern about the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.  “It impacts us if our beliefs are labeled as bigotry by the government,” he said. Looking ahead to 2016 Brown promised that NOM would not just endorse candidates who say they are pro-traditional marriage.

“We’ll endorse the candidate who will boldly stand up for marriage.  We need more than words,” Brown added.

Rafael Cruz gave a rousing speech to end the afternoon session.  Rafael Cruz is Senator Ted Cruz’s father.  He was born in Cuba and lived under Batista’s regime.  He began fighting the regime as a teenager and was imprisoned and tortured.  He fled Cuba to Texas in 1957 and briefly returned when Fidel Castro took over only to see the freedom he fought for was lost in the Marxist philosophy that Castro adopted.

Cruz said he was shocked to see the same socialist policies in America take root in 1976 during the Carter Administration that he fled from in Cuba.  “If we lose our rights here where can we go?” Cruz asked.  As a pastor who directs Purifying Fire Ministries, Cruz asked evangelicals, “how long are we going to remain silent?”

He exhorted pastors to stop hiding behind the pulpit and hiding behind 501(c)3 designation for their church and boldly speak the truth.  He said pastors and those attending must pledge, like our founding fathers did when they signed the Declaration of Independence, our lives, treasure and sacred honor.


Mark Doss, an associate district superintendent with the Central District of the Evangelical Free Church, thought the day was inspirational and insightful.  He said there is tension pastors in his district face when speaking to moral issues.  He said he knows pastors who are both sides of the debate when it comes to speaking on political issues from the pulpit.  He said not mixing politics and faith is a challenge.  “It’s not something we can avoid,” Doss said.

Ryan Beardshear who worked for Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City, IA and now attends law school at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln said, “Pastors do need to stop hiding behind a pulpit. They need to follow the example of Jesus and call a ‘fox’ a ‘fox’ and a ‘white-washed tomb of dead man’s bones’ a ‘white-washed tomb of dead man’s bones.’”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) opened the last session of the day. He was delayed and spoke later than scheduled. During a press avail when asked if he was considering a 2016 run since he has been visiting Iowa said that he was traveling to mobilize the grassroots in order to defund Obamacare.   In his speech given from memory he outlined two goals – restore economic growth and champion opportunity.

He also called for border security and rejected the movement to push legalization first.

Cruz echoed Santorum saying the “You didn’t build that” theme was too focused on business owners.  He received the biggest ovation of the night when he said that Congress needs to “repeal every word of Obamacare.”  He noted that he is tired of symbolic votes against Obamacare by those who won’t vote to defund it.

Jamie Johnson, a member of the Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee and staffer for Rick Santorum in 2012, has been impressed with Cruz.  “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he wins the nomination in 2016.”


Donald Trump closed the Summit after speeches given by Peggy Young Nance of Concerned Women for America, John Paulton of CitzenLink, Melody Scalley of Heritage Action and David Bossie of Citizens United.

The audience noticeably thinned out after Senator Cruz’ speech while Vander Plaats spoke and then introduced Trump.  “We all are in need of a Savior,” Vander Plaats said.  “We are still in the business of redemption and restoration.”  He said he considers Trump a friend and said that he had something to offer those in attendance because of his economic success.

Trump started off his speech by telling the audience he was confirmed in a Presbyterian Church as a boy and had a picture marking the event shown on the screen.  He then spoke on the economy.  He pointed out that we have a false economy.  He said the unemployment numbers were false believing the actual numbers to be 15-16%, not 7.4%.  He noted that the numbers don’t count those who stopped looking for work.

He advocated border security, “Having a country starts with security at your border,” Trump said.  He was leery of Republicans pushing immigration reform because there wasn’t any political benefit for the party.  He said since he didn’t believe current illegal immigrant would vote for Republicans.  “You have to do the right thing, but be very careful because this could be a death knell for the Republican Party.”

He called for additional taxes to be placed on Chinese products in order to end their currency manipulation.  He said in 2016 China will become the economic power in the world if nothing is done about it now.

He criticized Mitt Romney’s campaign, “I like Mitt Romney.  I think he is a nice guy.  I don’t know what the hell happened to his campaign.”  He critiqued Republican ads and messaging.  He also believed Romney mad a misstep not pushing President Obama harder on Benghazi.

“I am a Republican, proudly and I am a very conservative Republican,” Trump noted.  He said that he is prolife, pro-traditional marriage and pro-2nd Amendment.  With 2016 he believed that Hillary Clinton would be the Democrat nominee.  He believes she will be tougher to beat than President Obama, and that the GOP needs to pick the “perfect person.”

“Republicans have to get very tough and very smart and do it very fast,” Trump added.

Some after the event wondered if Trump is the “perfect person” he referred to in his speech.  One person told Caffeinated Thoughts in passing that Trump already has his campaign slogan should he run – “Make America Great – Again.”

Final thoughts:

  • Who knew Jan Mickelson could sing?  I didn’t mention it earlier, but he led us in the National Anthem.
  • This was a very well run event.  The FAMiLY Leader should be thrilled with the turn-out, especially on the first Saturday of the Iowa State Fair.  It was well done and it is becoming a premiere event.  My hat is off to the staff and volunteers involved.
  • Chuck Grassley gave a fabulous speech and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get it on video.
  • Rafael Cruz’ speech was spectacular.  He knocked it out of the park.
  • I’m glad to see some bridge-building between Branstad and Vander Plaats where they can.
  • I liked Santorum’s speech. It was pretty much the same speech he gave in Rock Rapids.  It was missing something.  It was good, but, in my opinion, didn’t inspire the crowd the same way Ted Cruz did.  I believe among the evangelicals and social conservatives present Ted Cruz shined.  By the response during and after his speech it’s pretty clear Ted Cruz will be a frontrunner in Iowa should he choose to run.
  • I also think Santorum “stepped in it” with his reference to the current state of faith-based media and naming Stephen Baldwin (watch the video).  Perhaps he didn’t mean to word it the way he did.  Kevin McCullough was right to call him out on it.  I think it was an unfortunate miscommunication.
  • Donald Trump… was he trying to “the perfect person” to run against Hillary Clinton?  One person told Caffeinated Thoughts in passing that Trump already has his campaign slogan should he run – “Make America Great – Again.”
  • The Donald has mastered talking in sound bytes very quotable – something candidates could learn from him.
  • Senator Cruz – could you give those videoing you a break and not move around so much?  Cool boots though.
  • I saw Joni Ernst and Mark Jacobs present, but didn’t see any other Republican U.S. Senate candidate.  That doesn’t mean they were not there, but I just didn’t see them.

Update: I probably could have chosen a better title.  I want to be clear – I like both men, and my thoughts are not reflective of who I prefer, but who I thought benefited the most (you are obviously free to disagree with me).  I don’t believe Santorum was hurt; he gave a solid speech and it did resonate.  Anyway, this is NOT meant to be an anti-Santorum post so please, please, please don’t take it that way.  I like Senator Santorum both personally and as a candidate (I did endorse him in 2012, but I’m undecided for 2016).

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