Editors’ note: The following essay forms part of “The new conservative dilemma: a symposium,” a special section on the challenges facing conservatism today. Roger Kimball’s introduction can be read here.
Conservatives enjoy popular support on the vast majority of current issues. But that does not necessarily translate into winning presidential elections, which is of course the only sure way of enacting conservative political agendas. Yet victory is possible for conservatives, as long as they learn from the past.
Take the potpourri of current controversies over illegal immigration, rising crime, fossil-fuel independence, the economy in general, and an array of cultural concerns—from the indoctrination of the dogma of diversity, equity, and inclusion to the fact of transgendered men participating in women’s sports. In these hot-button-issue debates, the conservative side usually wins the support of the American people, at least in opinion polls.
Surveys do not translate into presidential votes.
Even in these culturally liberal times, a recent Gallup poll noted that more Americans (38 percent) voiced that they were very conservative or more conservative on social issues than at any time since 2012. In contrast, those identifying as having liberal social views dipped to just 29 percent—fewer even than those describing themselves as moderates (31 percent). Moderates and independents have become terrified of the hard-left takeover of the Democratic Party and the neo-socialist agenda that ensued, which has altered their very way of life.
Of course, surveys do not translate into presidential votes. Events can transcend current ideological controversies and disrupt political debates. They often alter national congressional and presidential elections, prompting both forced and unforced errors from once-popular conservative presidents. Recent examples of these unforeseen crises include the 2008 financial meltdown, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the covid epidemic and subsequent lockdowns, and the George Floyd–related riots. All wrecked the reputations of formerly successful administrations.
George H. W. Bush’s convincing win in 1988 (53.4 percent of the popular vote) was in a mere four years reduced to a losing 37.5 percent of the vote, in part due to the unexpected third-party candidacy of Ross Perot and an overhyped recession. George W. Bush’s popularity after September 11 reached the highest on record at 85 percent approval—only to crash to a record 22 percent low after the September 2008 financial-system meltdown and the continuing violence in Iraq. The trifecta of the covid pandemic, national lockdown, and George Floyd riots sank what likely would have been a Trump 2020 popular-vote win.
But even granting the role of scandal, foreign misadventures, and economic downturns that sink presidencies, conservative presidential candidates should have been able to react to these unexpected calamities just as well as liberals—despite the partisan nature of the mainstream media. Yet in recent times they have not. The Republican Party, remember, has lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections: 1992 (37.5 percent), 1996 (40.7 percent), 2000 (47.9 percent), 2008 (45.7 percent), 2012 (47.2 percent), 2016 (46.1 percent), and 2020 (46.8 percent), after winning it in five of the prior six elections: 1968 (43.4 percent), 1972 (60.7 percent), 1980 (50.7 percent), 1984 (58.8 percent), and 1988 (53.4 percent).
In sum, Republican candidates have not garnered 51 percent of the popular vote since George H. W. Bush’s 53.4 percent 1988 victory over Michael Dukakis—engineered by the late Lee Atwater. He, remember, was severely criticized ex post facto for running a campaign that did not follow the usual Republican adherence to the Marquess of Queensberry Rules of campaigning etiquette.
True, these more recent setbacks have largely been confined to the federal level. They occurred despite often-stunning successes in capturing local and state majorities during Democratic administrations. For example, Republican wins in the election of state officials were dramatic during the two terms of the supposedly widely popular Obama administration—an era when Democrats in fact lost more congressional, senatorial, legislative, and gubernatorial seats than under any other president in history.
When Obama was elected in 2009, Democrats controlled both chambers of twenty-seven state legislatures. Yet when he exited office eight years later, they held power in both houses in a mere thirteen states. Obama entered office in 2009 with a supermajority in the Senate of sixty seats (including two liberal independents) and a seventy-nine-seat Democratic advantage in the House of Representatives. By 2015, there were only forty-four Democratic senators, coupled with a Republican House with a fifty-nine-seat advantage. Obama may have been charismatic and a cult figure of the Left, but he proved disastrous for the Democratic Party precisely because Republicans in local and state races ran on conservative rebukes to his hard-left policies, in a manner that neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney ever fully embraced at the national level.
There are many reasons why since 1988 Republican presidential candidates have failed to become elected or, once president, have not always implemented conservative agendas, much less prompted decades of national conservative governance—even while in state and local races Republicans have both won and governed conservatively.
First, after the tenure of Ronald Reagan, the national Republican Party nominated an array of “it’s now my turn” or what might be termed “safe” candidates—George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Although all were experienced elected officials, each was all too easily caricatured by the Left as a self-interested elite who had no interest in reducing the size of government, lowering taxes, controlling spending, or questioning the wisdom of sending expeditionary forces to the Middle East.
During their failed campaigns, they were successfully portrayed, and often libeled, as ossified career politicians, résumé-padding functionaries, or out-of-touch aristocrats—to the point of being unable to win over conservative middle-class Democrats who otherwise shared their hostility to hard-left agendas. The national Republican Party apparatchiks, the Washington-insider consulting classes, and the entrenched congressional hierarchy were far more alienated from their conservative base and independents than their liberal counterparts were from their own grassroots movements.
As a result, millions of conservative voters, both independent and Republican, were also convinced, often mistakenly, that there was little substantive difference between Republican candidates and their Democratic rivals—and so stayed home. Or they voted for third-party candidates perceived as more conservative, such as Ross Perot (18.9 percent of the vote in 1992; 8.4 percent in 1996).
Moreover, the elder Bush, Dole, McCain, and Romney were certainly not as charismatic as their Democratic opponents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who won four elections against them. Again, the four Republican candidates did not appeal much to the white working classes of all parties, who, rightly or wrongly, had little interest in prioritizing nation-building abroad, capital-gains tax cuts, corporate deregulation, open borders, unfettered free trade with China, and the restructuring or privatization of Social Security and Medicare.
Given impressive Democratic efforts in 2008 and afterwards in turning out more of their party’s voters than did their Republican counterparts, and since Democrats were successful in winning large majorities of black, Latino, and young voters, Republicans had little margin for error. They needed orthodox conservative voters to get to the polls and become enthused about the national ticket, and they also had to win over independents who shared conservative fears of the increasingly hard-left drift of the Democratic Party.
Once elected, Republican presidents did not necessarily govern all that differently from their Democratic counterparts. Even when Republicans recently controlled the House, the Senate, and the presidency (2002–07; 2017–18), the Republicans ran up huge budget deficits—$157 billion in 2002, $378 billion in 2003, $413 billion in 2004, $318 billion in 2005, $665 billion in 2017, and $779 billion in 2018. The eventual result was that Republicans forfeited any advantage around the issue of fiscal sobriety, thereby losing credibility with voters. Without fiscally conservative voices in national politics, the nation has been left burdened with the current $31 trillion in aggregate debt.
Recall that there was no difference, in terms of aggregate budget deficits, between the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency (national deficit increasing by 57 percent) and the eight years of Barack Obama’s (58 percent). For that matter, Ronald Reagan increased the national deficit by 142 percent during his two terms, and George H. W. Bush by 36 percent in his four years—while the Democrat Bill Clinton decreased it by 1 percent over eight years. The result was that Republicans, whether controlling the presidency or in opposition in Congress, lost all claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility, at precisely the time such responsibility was sorely needed.
George W. Bush and a Republican Congress pushed through big-government programs like “No Child Left Behind” and unfunded Medicare expansions,while also pushing for blanket amnesties for illegal immigrants under the misnomer of “comprehensive immigration reform.” Ronald Reagan and a Republican Senate embraced the disastrous Simpson and Mazzoli–drafted “Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986,” which approved amnesty without concomitant stricter border enforcement.
The net outcome of these policies by Republican administrations was a continued growth in entitlements and the constituencies receiving them. Millions of new American residents arrived, beholden to the Democratic Party—especially after the Clinton era—for its tacit support of illegal immigration. Whether they admitted it or not, the members of the Democratic Party rightly viewed illegal immigration as a means to expand the left-wing electorate.
Even under Trump, Republicans also vastly reduced federal sentences for a variety of crimes well beyond simple drug possession and released from prison thousands of inmates who have contributed to the present crime wave. Scholars increasingly conclude that the covid lockdowns—mostly enacted by blue-state governors, true, but strongly pushed by Anthony Fauci, whom Trump kept as his covid advisor for far too long—caused more health, economic, and sociocultural damage than the virus itself.
So it is not surprising that conservative and traditional voters do not necessarily equate a Republican presidential candidate or elected administration with the actual implementation of a conservative agenda. Again, sensing betrayal, millions of traditional voters have in reaction either stayed home or only begrudgingly voted. These voters have certainly not worked for or contributed to any Republican candidates. Independents may have been sympathetic to Republican positions on some cultural issues and certainly have historically been supportive of fiscal responsibility, but they found no guarantee that a Republican president would seek to balance budgets or attempt to prune away the power of expanding bureaucracies.
Independents’ cynical but not inaccurate assumption was that, even if elected, a Republican president would eventually gravitate leftward in the manner of so many Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices—such as Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Lewis Powell, David Souter, John Paul Stevens, and Earl Warren, all of whom became more liberal the longer they stayed on the Court.
Indeed, in regard to judicial appointments, would-be voters until recently correctly assumed that a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice would embrace doctrinaire liberalism or at least vote at times with the liberal majority in occasional landmark cases, as occurred with Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, and John Roberts. And conservatives rued that the inverse was rarely if ever true. In fact, Democrat-appointed justices became even more left-wing the longer their court tenures.
Since the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama, the Democrats have out-raised the Republicans both in presidential races and for congressional and senatorial candidates in aggregate. In 2020 alone, the Democrats outspent the Republicans by over $3 billion in combined presidential and congressional races. In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s spending ended up twice as great as a relatively impoverished Trump campaign—in keeping with the tradition of 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama’s campaign spending was more than double that of John McCain and slightly more than Mitt Romney’s.
This insidious transformation of Democrats into the party of the very rich came as a result of the emergence of a new twenty-first-century bicoastal affluence. Most of the mega-profits were concentrated in globalized high technology, finance and investment, communications, media, and entertainment. More importantly, the new hyper-wealth reached a scale never before seen in the history of civilization, as the nine-trillion-dollar market capitalization of Silicon Valley tech companies alone attests.
The staggering magnitude of riches created a paradox in which members of the new ultra-rich Left were liberated from caring much about the free-market protocols and policies that had nourished their ascendancy. Instead, they now saw their wealth as a shield to protect them from the consequences of their own toxic utopianism, which—from defunding the police; to diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as the rise of identity politics; to radical climate-change mitigation policies—proved to be ruinous experiments that fell heavily on the middle and lower classes.
They now saw their wealth as a shield to protect them from the consequences of their own toxic utopianism.
In contrast to the professional classes on the coasts, the citizens occupying the red-state interior were the losers of twenty-first-century globalism. Entire industries in manufacturing, assembly, construction, farming, and mining were outsourced and moved offshore. One result of this loss has been a divorce between the working class and the Democratic Party, the new protector of the rich. During the early stages of this separation, Democrats used the language of therapy to describe their former voters, now supposedly deluded. “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” tropes lamented that clueless former Democrats were now voting Republican because of meaningless cultural issues rather than fundamental lunch-bucket issues—as if the Obama or subsequent Biden economic agendas had fortified rather than hollowed out the middle classes.
But as the Democrats’ loss of the white working class proved permanent, the Left soon simply shrugged and wrote those voters off as a doomed and shrinking demographic not worth the effort to win back. The Democrats were especially convinced of their own wisdom by the recent successes in the national popular vote. Or as Barack Obama famously riffed on the white working classes,
They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
The “clingers” were further demonized by Hillary Clinton (“you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. . . . The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.”) and Joe Biden (“chumps,” “dregs,” “semi-fascists,” etc.).
Money is not the only force multiplier for Democratic candidates.
Money is not the only force multiplier for Democratic candidates. The most important development that has allowed the Left to enact agendas that rarely have majority popular support is not just blasé Republican presidential candidates, rino dominance at the national level, temporizing messaging by Republicans, or even Republicans being vastly outspent. Far more important than any of those factors is that the Left over the last half century has systematically gained control over the very flows of information and influence. These vital megaphones range from traditional print-media operations (e.g., The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times) and television news stations (abc, nbc, cbs, pbs, msnbc, cnn) to Silicon Valley companies and social-media platforms (Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple, Amazon, TikTok, YouTube, etc.).
Meanwhile, some influential conservative outlets, such as the Rush Limbaugh Show, The Weekly Standard, or Tucker Carlson Tonight, have ceased due to death, bankruptcy, or firing. Others, such as the Drudge Report, National Review, and Fox News, have either moved leftward or embraced what might be called Mitch McConnell Republicanism. Except for recent exceptions, such as Elon Musk’s new approach to X (formerly Twitter), it is hard to find any large established national publication or online medium that describes governmental policies disinterestedly; instead, these actors see their mission as promoting a morally superior worldview, which just happens to be politically useful to the Democratic Party.
Moreover, the new media does not just publish or disseminate the news. It is much more insidious than that. Google manipulates the order of its search results on the basis of a left-wing agenda. The old Twitter, along with Facebook, worked closely with the fbi to suppress as “disinformation” and “misinformation” any news deemed favorable to conservatives. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg injected $419 million into the 2020 election virtually to absorb the work of local registrars in key precincts so as to ensure higher Democratic vote tallies.
The same is true of many large American foundations. Most of the substantial grants that go to fund left-wing lawsuits, political advocacy, and public relations come from foundations that in terms of collective endowments dwarf their far fewer conservative counterparts. The Gates, Ford, MacArthur, Rockefeller, Lilly, Pew, Soros, and Bloomberg foundations, to name a few, simply overwhelm the assets, for example, of the conservative Bradley, Scaife, and Koch foundations.
Much left-wing “non-profit” grant-giving is also now directed at what is artfully termed “political process”—which is to say, changing state and national balloting laws, monitoring and seeking to suppress free media expression, waging war in the courts, and establishing new left-wing programs at universities. These new programs exist alongside these foundations’ long-established efforts to neuter the Second Amendment, end all restrictions on abortion, institutionalize racial quotas and reparatory admissions and hiring, and kneecap the U.S. fossil-fuel industry.
The Left also controls the so-called deep or administrative state. The baseless idea of the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia has been proven to be largely the work of the Hillary Clinton campaign and senior officials in the fbi, with occasional help from the cia and Department of Justice. Ditto for the farcical idea that Hunter Biden’s incriminating laptop was in fact a Russian plant. The last four fbi directors have either lied under federal oath or stonewalled in congressional testimony by pleading amnesia or ignorance—on topics such as the Steele dossier, the role of Fusion gps, or the efforts to contract out suppression of news accounts to social-media corporations. Their dissimulations shared a common theme of being aimed at Republican voters, cultural conservatives, and those who hold what are now called traditional values (but which used to be called simply American values). The fbi has likely spent more time investigating Donald Trump, traditional Latin Mass Catholics, Virginia parents at school-board meetings, and the January 6 demonstrations than it ever has monitoring the blm and Antifa architects of the hundred twenty days of mass looting, arson, riot, and public violence in 2020 that led to over thirty-five deaths, 1,500 injured police officers, and $2 billion in damage.
In the case of the 2020 election, ex-intelligence “authorities” swore, in a pre-election affidavit aimed at bolstering the debate performance of Joe Biden, that Hunter Biden’s laptop, forgotten carelessly by the crack addict at a computer-repair shop, was likely a plant and “Russian disinformation.” This was known to be untrue by a strangely mum fbi, which had held the laptop in its possession for over a year and had already concluded it was authentic. In other words, the left-wing weaponization of the federal bureaucracies reached such a level that it could fundamentally alter the presidential elections.
Various irs whistleblowers and business associates of Hunter Biden have admitted on record that the Biden family was in felonious violation of a number of irs statutes. They have testified about unreported foreign income and the manner in which the Department of Justice slow-walked the investigation of the Biden family’s vast sums of unreported income until much of its jeopardy expired under the statute of limitations. The doj also put a wall around President Joe Biden that protected him from any serious investigation.
University- and government-funded “watchdog” groups and media “fact-checkers” promiscuously employ the misleading nouns “misinformation” and “disinformation” to suppress news deemed unhelpful to progressive agendas. Twitter and Facebook, to take another example, banned as misinformation any initial news accounts of the corrupt activity of the Black Lives Matter founders and leadership. The American people still do not know the full level of involvement between the fbi and Silicon Valley social-media corporations—only that it was intended, inevitably, to help the Left and hurt the Right.
There is little need to comment much on the popular culture or how it empowers leftist agendas.
What is new about the universities since the fall of Communism in 1990 is not their left-wing political bias, a phenomenon dating back at least to the 1950s. Rather, it is higher education’s obsessions with the three icons of race, gender, and sexuality, and its general abandonment of class concerns. Much of the universities’ diversity, equity, and inclusion fixations dovetail with the Democratic Party’s current boasts of a “new Democratic majority” and their claim that demography is destiny—tribal triumphalism that professes to create a new non-white constituency that votes overwhelmingly Democrat on the basis of identity. These ideas are formulated in universities and fortified by recent academese such as “systemic racism,” “microaggressions,” “gender identity,” “cultural appropriation,” and “Critical Race Theory.” In addition, university towns, and their overwhelmingly left-wing college constituencies, can swing the popular vote in once red or purple states such as the hotly contested Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.
There is little need to comment much on the popular culture or how it empowers leftist agendas. Professional sports, late-night comedy, popular music, Hollywood, network-television shows, and television commercials all operate within strictly defined left-wing parameters. And they have all become powerful incubators of popular tastes, customs, and political orthodoxies. Democratic Party politics cannot sell the American people on apocalyptic climate change, supposedly ubiquitous transgenderism, the advisability of late-term abortion, or the horrors of systemic racism without the help of politicized entertainment, advertising, consumerism, and sports.
Republicans, in contrast, rarely talk about process. They allow the Left to alter basic government protocols and institutions through court rulings, bureaucratic edicts, and presidential fiat. If Republicans believe their politics appeal to over 51 percent of the population and thus can win elections, Democrats understand that they can still defeat conservatives by controlling institutions and altering the way we communicate, access information, vote, and structure government,
Left-wing revolutionary movements now seek to alter the foundational date of America to 1619 rather than 1776. They rename streets, buildings, and institutions; tear down statues; deface monuments; and blacklist books. Boycotting, ostracizing, doxxing, canceling, shadow-banning, and deplatforming are far more often Democratic than Republican tools in the arsenal of control.
In the last decade, the Left has demanded an end to the Senate filibuster (but not when in the minority), the Electoral College, and the nine-justice Supreme Court. It has also called for statehood for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia—which would create four new likely left-wing senators. Its attacks on the Court now entail massing protestors at justices’ homes in efforts to bully them about upcoming and past decisions. The media is conducting a systematic campaign of ad hominem attacks on conservative justices by suggesting they are corrupt. Law professors at Ivy League schools now openly urge state and federal governments, in the style of the old Confederacy, to nullify judicial decisions, especially on affirmative action and abortion.
During the covid-19 pandemic, the Left, again acting through the courts and the administrative state, succeeded in many states in upping the percentages of mail-in and early-voting ballots to almost three-quarters of all votes cast. Nationally, nearly half the country voted absentee or by mail. When mail-in votes were coupled with early-voting totals, the result was that only 27 percent of all votes cast were Election Day ballots.
New left-wing social and cultural changes . . . were achieved outside the legislative process.
A mere 17 percent of Biden voters cast ballots on November 3, 2020. In some states, the rejection rates for non–Election Day ballots—cast well beyond Election Day, often without proper registration, names, and addresses—decreased by a magnitude of ten, even as registrars were swamped by a record number of mail-in and early-voting ballots cast. The Left introduced to elections new vocabulary such as “vote harvesting,” “mail-in” (as opposed to the old “absentee”) ballots, “same-day registration,” and “ballot curing.” And in one of the most dramatic revolutions in U.S. history, leftist activist lawyers succeeded in rendering Election Day voting and Election Night tallying mere constructs—on the correct expectation that the ensuing results would usually favor progressive candidates.
New left-wing social and cultural changes—such as reparatory hiring and admissions, Critical Race Theory indoctrination, and transgendered athletes in women’s events and locker rooms—were achieved outside the legislative process. Before the 2022 midterms, Joe Biden sought to drain the strategic petroleum reserve, cancel student loans, and restore methods of ensuring abortion on demand via a series of federal executive orders. That he has sometimes failed does not mean the efforts are dead forever.
If even the rare Republican control of Congress, the presidency, and the Supreme Court cannot stop the progressive takeover of America, what—other than raise more money, register more Republican voters, increase voter turnout, and find more resolute, charismatic, and conservative candidates to run—are conservatives to do?
One perhaps unfortunate response has been for millions of conservatives to disengage from the current cultural and social life of the country. Homeschooling has soared to an all-time high to include over 3.5 million students. Interstate migration is also at record levels, as millions of Americans are moving from blue states to red. Indeed, nearly eight million Americans abandoned their states in 2022, overwhelmingly leaving blue states, regardless of climate or cultural attractions. California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York lost considerable population to their red counterparts such as Florida and Texas. Substantial population gains were made in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, and Idaho. Or blue-state citizens are moving out of left-wing large cities to intrastate small towns and rural areas.
When millions take the drastic step of uprooting and moving to politically friendlier landscapes, they ostensibly have given up on state politics. They see no further possibility of changing their native political landscape and so prefer to live where their own politics are institutionalized, prices are cheaper, taxes are lower, crime is less in evidence, infrastructure is superior, and government remains more hands-off.
This sort of cultural detachment is also seen in the massive drop-offs in viewership and attendance at events deemed woke and leftist. The Grammys, Emmys, Oscars, and Tonys have fewer than half the viewers they enjoyed a quarter-century ago, when there were sixty million fewer Americans.
The same radical declines have been observed in professional sports such as Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. The audiences for the major networks and public-broadcasting news hours are smaller than they were in 2000. Hollywood movie receipts in all categories, when adjusted for inflation, have remained static over the last twenty-five years. This sort of “monastery of the mind” attitude is a de facto admission that if the Left cannot be defeated politically, it at least can do far less damage the farther one is from its reach.
A second—and in my view far more hopeful—response has been a growing grassroots resistance to the cultural and political Left, one mostly divorced from institutional Republican politics. This response, while more difficult, points the way to actual conservative victories instead of just virtual secession. Conservatives are just now learning how to emulate the Democrats’ mail-in electioneering, and they certainly are starting to master the left-wing tactics of boycotts and ostracism. As a result, the conservative snoring dragon is beginning to awake—and to discover it has underappreciated, even enormous power.
Conservatives sent a message that, if gratuitously affronted, they can cripple a corporation.
The ad hoc boycotts against the transgendered fixations of Disney, Anheuser-Busch, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Target have alone cost these corporations perhaps $50 billion in aggregate stock values, losses of market share, and decreased attendance, subscriptions, and sales. In just a few weeks in spring 2023, conservatives sent a message that, if gratuitously affronted, they can cripple a corporation that arrogantly advances radical cultural agendas contrary to those of traditional America. And such selective patronage works both ways: when the left-wing media sought to cancel and defame the country-music singer Jason Aldean for his new song “Try That in a Small Town,” the tune soared to the top of the country charts. Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” was trashed by leftist critics and opinion journalism—and yet set a record by becoming the number-one song simultaneously on all the music charts. The same reaction was true of the director Alejandro Monteverde’s Sound of Freedom, which was shunned by Hollywood and yet became a mega-hit. One would have thought that the nature of the film—detailing the evils of child trafficking and having been made by ethnically diverse production teams—would have earned liberal empathy rather than hostility or false allegations that the movie was hopelessly right-wing in exposing the groomers of child sex-slaves.
The new conservative activism is also beginning to characterize Republican politics, especially in the post-Trump age. Conservatives now prefer to win ugly rather than perennially lose nobly. Pressure from the conservative base has transformed Republican politics from the Paul Ryan/Mitch McConnell era to one of brasher representatives and senators, such as James Comer, Ted Cruz, Chuck Grassley, Josh Hawley, Jim Jordan, Rand Paul, and the members of the Freedom Caucus. Republicans are more aware that their Democratic opponents are not of the John Kerry or even Bill Clinton sort, but belong instead to a virtual Jacobin movement in which former outliers like aoc and the rest of the “Squad” are now the voice of the Democratic Party. These politicians, who playact as revolutionaries, have frightened former Democratic mainstays like Senator Chuck Schumer, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and President Joe Biden into moving radically leftward. Antifa and blm are not seen as radical and violent outliers on the Left but incorporated into mainstream Democratic counsels. Peruse Molly Ball’s February 2021 essay in Time magazine, “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election.” It reads as a triumphalist and boastful confessional—replete with the positive use of vocabulary like “conspiracy” and “cabal”—about how Democratic strategists incorporated Silicon Valley, the media, the corporate boardroom, and urban activists to help warp the 2020 election. This effort stirred up street protests, raised huge amounts of cash to absorb the work of state registrars, censored the flow of news, and enlisted corporations to voice Democratic talking points.
Finally, there is a real debate over whether live-and-let-live conservatives should reclaim institutions that were founded on traditionalist principles but have long been culturally hijacked by the Left—or instead should leave them to be ignored and then rivaled by new conservative counterparts.
Is it smarter to seek to retake the Oscars or write them off as beyond hope and form a new, replacement film consortium?
Is it wiser for alumni to save a culturally and academically eroding left-wing Stanford or Princeton or simply found new traditionalist alternatives such as the University of Austin, or copy the successful Hillsdale College model nationwide?
The argument hinges on pragmatism. Ostensibly, conservatives should not concede to the Left once-hallowed universities and
institutions—ones created by previous (mostly conservative and traditionalist) generations only to be insidiously harvested by a cadre of long-march activists. Why raise billions of dollars to match the endowments of weaponized universities when those legacy universities might instead be pressured to return to their roots?
The two approaches—replacement and grassroots resistance—can be complementary rather than antithetical. Homeschooling, charter schools, private and parochial academies, and vouchers offer sane educational alternatives. They also threaten the finances of the monopolistic public schools and left-wing teachers’ unions, and thus aid the fight to return public K–12 schooling to a traditional, non-political, and merit-based educational approach. There should be sustained efforts to replace tenure with revolving five-year contracts based on specified expectations, and to offer new public-school teachers a choice of either obtaining the teaching credential or, preferably, an academic MA degree.
By the same token, public pressure and more activism should resist the left-wing hijacking of foundations like those the Ford and Rockefeller families funded generations ago and which now subsidize radical strategies to transform the United States into something unrecognizable by traditionalist philanthropists.
Finally, as the examples of a liberal Bill Maher, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., or Matt Taibbi show, conservatives do not always have to create rivals to left-wing influencers. They need only to persuade instrumental agents of the truth that there is no longer a classical-liberal orthodoxy or Democratic Party of the 1950s or early 1960s. What we have now is an extremist nihilist movement that tolerates no dissent or apostasy and inevitably eats its own. The more intellectuals that can be convinced of this, the better.
Ultimately, what cannot go on will not go on. The current ruling-class nihilism that has resulted in seven million illegal aliens crashing through a wide-open border; a hundred thousand Americans dead each year due to Mexican-cartel imported fentanyl; massive police defunding and prosecutorial nullification of the criminal codes; $31 trillion in national debt; a politically weaponized but otherwise ineffectual fbi; a rogue Department of Justice; an underfunded, politicized, and increasingly neutered Pentagon; and an ideologically asymmetrical application of the laws is not sustainable. Those who voted for the politicians who created these destructive policies are beginning to realize the resultant dangers looming over their very way of life, and as a result are looking to their erstwhile opponents to offer remedies.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 42 Number 2, on page 10
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