Rush Limbaugh isn't as powerful as he once was, but all that means is that a new, hungrier generation of talk radio ringmasters are ready to adapt to the new, younger Pretty Hate Machine in the age of social media and lightning fast responses, and given the outsized power of the Hawkeye State in presidential primary politics, nobody's better positioned at running the "outsider outrage" game right now than Iowa's Steve Deace.
Such is the mood on the far right these days, where a two- or three-hour radio show can leave Democrats virtually unscathed in favor of attacking Republicans — the damned party ‘‘establishment,’’ in particular. The relationship between the party and much of conservative media has been flipped since the ’90s, when House Republican leaders, including the future speaker, John Boehner, made Rush Limbaugh an honorary member of their caucus. Over time, conservatism has veered rightward, and Deace — capitalizing on his place in Iowa, with its first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest — has emerged as one of the top voices of the political moment. Deace and others like him boast of being more conservative than Limbaugh or Fox News; like much of their audience, they consider themselves conservatives first and Republicans second (if only because being a Democrat is unthinkable). This strain of conservative media, and its take-no-prisoners ideology, have proliferated on websites, podcasts and video outlets, greatly complicating the Republican Party’s ability to govern and to pick presidential candidates with broad appeal.
Like his peers, Deace has nudged himself continuously to the right just to keep up with his audience. He once supported George W. Bush’s plans for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, before being persuaded otherwise by his listeners; ‘‘Steve has grown,’’ says Maxwell, his producer. Bob Vander Plaats, a regular on Deace’s show and one of Iowa’s most politically influential conservatives as head of the evangelical group the Family Leader, says Deace has told him more than once, ‘‘You know, we’re at a point today where my listeners are more upset than I am.’’ Maxwell echoes that: ‘‘It’s like nobody’s conservative enough!’’ Deace and his audience have lately been gripped by a single issue: demanding that the Republican-controlled Congress shut down the government rather than fund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest network of abortion providers. Boehner’s refusal to lead that fight, knowing Republicans would lose to President Obama’s veto and in the general public’s opinion, was the proximate cause of his surprise announcement in September that he would resign as speaker, the third-highest office in the nation. Rather than be fired by militant Republicans, Boehner quit.
Presidential candidates are trying to manage this anger and rebelliousness, in part by courting the messengers. By Deace’s own accounting, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul and Bobby Jindal have been on his show ‘‘a ton’’ in the past year. Ben Carson, another repeat guest, sent a photo in which he is reading Deace’s 2014 book, ‘‘Rules for Patriots,’’ on a flight. ‘‘I know Donald Trump on a first-name basis, which is crazy for a kid from Iowa,’’ Deace says. He and Cruz also were ‘‘on a first-name basis’’ long before Deace endorsed Cruz this summer.
For many longtime Republicans, this bottom-up tumult from the party base in both the presidential and the legislative arenas is deeply unnerving. How can it be, they ask, that Republicans, traditionally so hierarchical and relatively disciplined — relative, that is, to Democrats — have become so divided and dysfunctional that serious people speculate about the collapse of a 161-year-old political party? Yet whether evolution or revolution, the rise of anti-establishment conservatives is in fact easy to understand when listening to the ‘‘Steve Deace Show.’’
Deace is surfing the same wave that is propelling Trump and Carson, and to a lesser extent, Ted Cruz, to influence in the GOP. Remember, it's not just Republican politicians that have failed to "stop" President Obama, but FOX News and Rush Limbaugh too.
The GOP establishment includes the Right Wing Noise Machine, and it's falling out of favor. The GOP has lost control of the monster it has unleashed, and Steve Deace is riding this bronco from hell over everyone in his path. Virulently racist, nationalist, and theocratic, Deace is downright dangerous, a Father Coughlin for the Twitter and Snapchat age.
He's the perfect representative of the GOP of Trump, Carson and hate.