Winners & Losers of the 2015 FAMiLY Leadership Summit

Sen. Marco Rubio
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., reads from the Bible at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, United States, July 18, 2015. |

I wanted to write a quick synopsis of the FAMiLY Leadership Summit on Saturday. If you haven't been able to watch all of the candidate videos you can do so here. There were 10 candidates (or national leaders as the FAMiLY Leader had Frank Luntz refer to them) present at this event. Over 2950 tickets were given out, and while I do not have an exact number of attendees there were a significantly larger number of people present this year than in year's past.

Iowa's social conservatives who made up most of the audience were able have Q&A sessions with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-FL), Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA), former Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Governor Scott Walker (R-WI).


There were two candidates that stood out to me in terms of audience reaction and having a strong appearance.

Ted Cruz

Cruz was given a rousing reception as he walked on stage. He engaged with the audience throughout. He had numerous applause lines, and was given three different spontaneous standing ovations during his time with Luntz. It was very apparent that he was a crowd favorite and he will make a strong play for Iowa's evangelicals.

Here is his discussion of Planned Parenthood where he called for an investigation of Planned Parenthood by Congress and states and the defunding of the abortion provider. This was the first spontaneous standing ovation of the day.

Cruz also explained to Luntz how he would protect religious liberty, this also received a standing ovation.

Cruz also provided a strong statement on Iran and Islamic terrorism that resonated with the audience. This was asked in the context of President Obama's use of executive power. Cruz's 3rd standing ovation was right before his statement on Iran. This was more substantive than what he said prior I believe.

Bobby Jindal

Saturday was an excellent day for Jindal. I believe he is starting to pick up steam with Iowa's grassroots. I suspect this momentum will translate into higher poll numbers in the coming weeks as he continues to spend time in the state. This was a great venue for him and he killed it. He also received spontaneous standing ovations including the longest one of the day.

Jindal and Luntz discussed judicial activism, and Jindal explained how he would address the Supreme Court ruling on marriage that he said was wrong.

Jindal also received numerous applause lines as he answered a question given to him by an audience member who wondered how Americans can see their freedom restored.

Jindal received the longest standing ovation during his remarks about the media. Jindal said, "I am critical of the mainstream media when they are not going to apply the same standards to this president that they apply to the rest of us."

The FAMiLY Leader

The FAMiLY Leader put on a terrific event, and having Frank Luntz moderate keep the day moving and provided information to voters beyond typical campaign stump speeches. There was also significant time given for audience members to ask questions and they were not prescreened.

While the Iowa Straw Poll's cancellation was the Republican Party of Iowa's loss, it was The FAMiLY Leader's gain as the FAMiLY Leadership Summit became the premiere summer time venue leading up to the Iowa Caucuses in February.

Honorable Mention

I want to emphasize that Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry and Scott Walker all had solid appearances at the FAMiLY Leadership Summit. In my mind, from my perspective of surveying the audience however, Cruz and Jindal shined.


Donald Trump

The only candidate negatively impacted by his appearance was Donald Trump. Caffeinated Thoughts Contributor Brian Myers already shared his opinion about Trump's comments so I won't belabor the point. In case you missed the hoopla surrounding it, here are the comments again in context: Watch them here.

While Trump has plenty of defenders online, his comments were not received well by those attending the Summit. Voters will decide whether he can stay in the race or not, but only his supporters believe this was a good moment for him. I'm not a John McCain fan by any stretch of the imagination, but where Trump got into trouble is when he said, "I prefer people who don't get captured." Suddenly his comment that was directed at McCain was projected onto every other former POW. Whether it was intended or not, it was in poor taste and politics like that historically never do well here.

Also his struggle to answer Luntz's question about asking God forgiveness was painful. While I appreciate his honesty, it isn't something one should pander over, it is still an answer that will hurt him among evangelicals in particular. I have other pastoral concerns. One also has to wonder, and I would be interested to hear his answer, has he ever asked anyone for forgiveness? When has he been wrong? How did he handle it? It humility a virtue that should be strived for?

Right now Trump leads in the most recent national polls. I suspect these comments will hurt him, and I should add that he's never led the polls in Iowa. I don't see that changing.

No Shows

I still do not understand why a candidate would choose to skip an event that will have thousands of activists present. I won't say it disqualifies them, but I still find it mind-boggling. This was a great opportunity to connect with the base of the party in Iowa and candidates such as U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Carly Fiorina, former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL), and Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) skipped out, especially when they all have discussed issues such as life and religious liberty in the past.

About the Author: Shane Vander Hart is the founder and editor-in-chief of Caffeinated Thoughts. He is also the President of 4:15 Communications, LLC, a social media & communications consulting/management firm. He is a communications director for American Principles Project's Preserve Innocence Initiative. Prior to this Shane spent 20 years in youth ministry serving in church, parachurch, and school settings.

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