Since Iowa based radio host Steve Deace endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in August, national media outlets have continued to rely on him as an election analyst, often without disclosure of his endorsement. Television outlets like CNN and MSNBC as well as major newspapers including the Washington Post allowed him to promote Cruz's brand and attack his opponents while providing analysis ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
In endorsing Cruz in August Deace claimed that the senator was exactly “what we have been waiting for,” signaling to Deace's supporters that Deace's own brand of anti-gay views and extreme rhetoric best matched Cruz's platform. However, Deace's support for Cruz was clear long before his endorsement. In March, The Des Moines Register reported that “Deace has served as an informal, unpaid consultant” to Cruz. After his endorsement, Deace advised Cruz and appeared in promotional videos for Cruz's campaign.
Yet interviews with Deace in mainstream media would overlook his attacks on the LGBT community such as his use of phrases like "rainbow jihad" to describe their advocates, Deace's support of the deceptively edited Planned Parenthood videos, or his likening of ESPN to Nazis. Media gave Deace a pass and solely focused on his position in Iowa as a "conservative hitmaker - and hitman," and a "gatekeeper."
Beyond ignoring his rhetoric, media allowed Deace to promote Cruz for months, often without disclosure of his support of Cruz. While Deace was providing analysis on the Iowa race to national media audiences he was busy consistently promoting Cruz on his radio show and across conservative blogs and outlets including The Washington Times and Conservative Review. By April 2015 it was clear that Deace was backing Cruz; however the media failed to disclose Deace's ties to the candidate during interviews with him.
The Washington Post quoted Deace as he attacked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in an April 24 article on the senator's immigration plan which Deace said was “one of the worst squanderings of political capital I've ever witnessed.” The Post again quoted Deace as he attacked Donald Trump on August 13 as the host dismissed Trump's pull with evangelical voters, saying, “Everyone was paying attention, especially those who are fed up with the Republican Party, but he didn't sell them.”
Though they disclosed his endorsement of Cruz, the Los Angeles Times allowed Deace to attack Carly Fiorina on September 25 by quoting Deace saying “You don't have to dig very far if you're a conservative to see some things that are troubling ... She needs to show these are not campaign conservative conversions.”
USA Today disclosed Deace's endorsement but still gave Deace a post-debate analysis column that provided him free reign to attack Cruz's opponents while claiming the senator was a top performer in each analysis. After the August debate in Cleveland, Deace wrote, this time without disclosure of his Cruz endorsement, that “Jeb is Dead,” “Rand Paul is on life support,” and Carly Fiorina was just the “flavor of the month.” In the most recent debate which many felt Cruz lost, Deace stated that “nobody really laid a glove on him.”
Outlets like CNN and MSNBC also provided Deace with a television platform that allowed him to attack Cruz's opponents. In a January 26 interview, Deace was assisted in his effort when he was asked if it was “fair to pull something Trump said 17 years ago” for use in an attack ad. Deace wasted no time going after Cruz's opponent, saying Trump's comments on abortion were fair game today.
Deace has also managed to appeal to multiple audiences in different ways. For example, Deace has restrained his extreme views in order to deliver his message of support for the senator to a wider audience, such as refering to Secretary Clinton as “Killary” in his blogs and on his radio show, but reverting to “Hillary” when on national TV. Deace's code switching -- suppressing his far-right views for the camera and changing his language -- allows him to continue to be palatable for national broadcasts while providing conservative red meat to his Iowa audience.
Cruz's victory in Iowa may mean that Deace could play a larger role as surrogate for the candidate. Media outlets should note his long history of extreme rhetoric and should be wary of presenting Deace as an election analyst.