During the December 15 Republican primary debate, influential right-wing Iowa radio host Steve Deace sent out a tweet to his twenty thousand followers attacking Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. “Wow ... Fiorina goes full vagina right away,” Deace wrote, a statement he would quickly retract and apologize for after receiving significant backlash on Twitter. As the tweet ricocheted across the internet, eventually landing on Fox News, Deace furiously responded to criticism of his tweet and attempted to de-link himself from the presidential candidate he has endorsed - Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) -- saying it was “intellectually dishonest” to associate the two.
Yet, Cruz's recent surge in Iowa polls can be credited to few people more than Deace. The host and the senator have formed a close relationship that started well before Deace's early endorsement of Cruz in August. Cruz's successful attempt to win over evangelicals like Deace has solidified the Senator's position on the fringe of the right-wing, as their relationship has helped drive Cruz to the top of the polls in Iowa.
Steve Deace is one of the busiest anti-establishment conservatives. His radio show apparently outgrew its provider, USA Radio Networks, and was re-launched under the Salem Media Group, a leading Christian media organization that “operates 117 local radio stations, with 72 stations in the top 25 media markets.” Deace also contributes to several conservative blogs, most notably Townhall.com and Conservative Review, and authors a column for The Washington Times. Deace's location in Iowa has also given him opportunities to appear in mainstream outlets like MSNBC and NPR as a voice for Iowa conservatives and allowed him to become a Politico Caucus “insider.”
Deace's August endorsement of Cruz was one of the earliest among media figures and was aimed at giving the freshman senator a jumpstart ahead of the February Iowa caucus. “History has proven the first foe that must be defeated is the feckless Republican Party establishment,” Deace said in his endorsement. As Deace's reputation has grown, so too has the value of his endorsement.
It is difficult to find another media figure providing similar coverage and promotion for one candidate like Deace is doing for Cruz. With such an influential position and unwavering support for his candidate, Deace's work across all platforms has become a crucial machine for supporting Cruz and Deace himself has proven to be a loyal defender when the candidate is criticized.
Laying out his reasons for choosing Cruz, Deace has appeared in a three minute campaign ad in which Deace says Cruz is a “principled candidate” that will ignite the passion of the conservative base and avoid the weak turnout blamed for “establishment” candidate losses of recent history
Deace has also helped the campaign by appearing at campaign office openings like one at Cruz's Iowa headquarters where he was introduced as "part of the campaign," as Cruz looked on. Before officially endorsing Cruz, Deace had been questioned via Twitter by Des Moines Register reporter Jason Noble about his advising role on the Cruz campaign. While Deace denied working for the senator at the time, he told the conservative National Review that Cruz had been asking for his help since 2013. Deace was also "part of the Cruz debate team" during the October Republican debate.
Since January 2015, Deace has written at least 24 articles trumpeting Cruz across the various outlets to which he contributes, most of which include an attack against other Republican candidates and Cruz remains a constant topic of conversation on Deace's radio show. As the host said at the time, “it's only fitting” that Ted Cruz was the first guest of his re-launched Steve Deace Show on the Salem radio network. During the interview, Deace used the campaign's own language in describing Cruz's tax plan, calling it "simple and fair" while prompting the Senator to pitch his plan.
Deace has also heavily engaged in Cruz support on social media, sending over one hundred tweets mentioning Cruz this year as well as longer Facebook posts in support of the candidate. The host often uses social media to defend Cruz against critics and advocate for the Texas Senator's brand of anti-establishment rhetoric.
Deace's endorsement was a major prize for Cruz as the radio host is often credited with helping former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee secure an upset caucus win during the 2008 presidential primaries. With connections throughout the evangelical community, and a special relationship with “king maker” Bob Vander Plaats - leader of the anti-abortion, anti-gay Family Leader - ABC News named Deace part of the "trifecta of key Iowa endorsements" along with Vander Plaats and Republican Iowa Rep. Steve King.
Cruz has gone all out to woo evangelical leaders like Deace and Vander Plaats. Cruz has made multiple appearances at Vander Plaats' Family Leadership Summit, an event heavily supported and promoted by Deace who called it the “biggest pre-election event prior to the 2016 Iowa caucuses.” In 2013, Cruz and his father were featured speakers, and the Senator continued his appearances at the summit in 2014 and 2015 along with many other Republican candidates.
Cruz's effort to win over Iowa's evangelicals has led him to mimic their rhetoric, often using similar phrasing as Deace when discussing social issues, especially women's rights and LGBT issues. Deace has claimed that the “Democrats have trotted out their phony-baloney 'war-on-women' meme” when defending conservative attacks on everything from issues of equal pay to abortion rights and praised Cruz for “taking a page - literally - out of my book” by flipping the narrative to say the war on women is actually being waged by Democrats:
Taking a page - literally - out of my book Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again, Cruz perfectly demonstrated the Fifth Commandment of my “10 Commandments of Political Warfare.”
The Fifth Commandment reads: “Reverse the premise of your opponent's argument and use it against him.”
And that's just what Cruz did recently at a women's forum in South Carolina, one of the most important states on the GOP presidential primary calendar (I'm sure that's not a coincidence, by the way). Cruz accused President Obama of waging a war on women:
“For the last six years under President Obama, 3.7 million have entered poverty. Under President Obama, the median income for women has dropped by $733. You want to talk about a war on women? That's a war on women. We're here today because we're concerned about the future for our kids and our grandkids. Right now for the first time in our nation's history, most Americans don't think their kids will have a better life than them--76 percent of Americans right now think their kids will have a worse life than they do. That has never been true in the history of our country.”
On LGBT issues, the two also have parallel views and use strikingly similar language. Deace has lashed out at advancements in LGBT rights such as the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision to allow marriage equality in every state as well as positive media coverage of Caitlyn Jenner's transition and accompanying trans issues. Deace also coined the phrase "rainbow jihad" to describe advocates for LGBT equality:
What I have dubbed “the Rainbow Jihad” is a carefully coordinated cultural hijacking decades in the making. Like a parasite that long exists in a body but doesn't manifest itself until the host is at its weakest, it has been unleashed by the Left because they believe they have successfully eroded our Judeo-Christian foundation. The Rainbow Jihad is much more than an attempt to promote a behavior Western Civilization cast aside as barbaric centuries ago. It is the lethal scimitar malevolently wielded by progressives in the cultural battlefield for one existential purpose.
As Right Wing Watch first reported, Cruz used similar language during a panel discussion on religious freedom. “Look at the jihad being waged right now...going after people of faith who respect the biblical teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” The discussion, which also featured former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), was hosted by Steve Deace.
Deace's radio reach, amplified by his print contributions and his stature in Iowa make him a sought after pundit on mainstream media outlets. He is often hosted by shows looking to get an “insider view” of what Iowans are thinking before the caucuses. However, his dedication to Cruz has disturbingly turned these appearances into free opportunities to pump Cruz as a candidate and to attack his opponents, often without proper disclosure of his role in the Cruz campaign. During interviews on stations like MSNBC, Deace has used the cover of conservative insider to promote Cruz even when the discussion is ostensibly about other candidates. Similarly, USA Today asked Deace to provide post-debate analysis after September's Republican debate, which led Deace to list Cruz as one of the debate's top performers.
While Deace's impact on the presidential race will likely wane after the Iowa caucuses, his influence has already left a lasting remark on Cruz, who has used Deace's ideas and endorsement to help build his platform. Despite Deace's best efforts to maintain appropriate distance from Cruz, it's clear that Deace and Cruz are linked in many ways, making Deace's comments and ideas as both a quasi-surrogate and “insider” pundit all the more important as the Iowa Caucus looms.