An article in the Washington Post asked a very important question: “A lot of conservative pundits have hitched their stars to Donald Trump. What if he loses?” It includes a short interview with Rich Lowry from National Review that points out how the political stock of politicians and journalists will be affected depending on the outcome of this polarizing election.
(Washington Post uses a paywall, so if you can’t get to the story through the direct link, here’s an alternative.)
If there’s one thing we’ve learned with a certainty this election cycle, it’s that the conservative movement that had shown strength over the last six years was much more brittle than many of us imagined. We rode an incredible wave spawned by President Obama’s 2008 victory and spurred by the rise of the Tea Party. Hopes were high as strong conservatives threw their name in the hat in 2015. It seemed as if 2016 was going to be our year. Then, Trump happened and showed us our biggest weakness: messaging.
Conservatives screamed so loudly about immigration but failed to make a bold statement on how to solve it. Trump did. We wailed over gay marriage and Planned Parenthood and demanded that America listen to us. Trump didn’t. Instead, he turned those issues into boxes to be checked rather than agendas to be pushed and from a political perspective he was right. We confused voters about the economy by debating supply side versus demand side economics, calling for reduced budgets against the leadership of the Republican party, and demonizing entitlements that the vast majority of Americans don’t understand beyond the check they receive every month. Trump blamed China, called for big expenditures without a plan to pay for them, and promised to protect entitlements.
It wasn’t just the conservative message on policy that Trumped commandeered. By latching onto the anti-establishment sentiment, the conservative movement opened the door for someone like Trump to steal our thunder. Again, conservatives failed at messaging. Ted Cruz tried to point out how anti-Establishment he was but was unable to make his message stick as well as Trump’s. Most would blame the media for this, but I refuse to use them as the scapegoat. If we were going to cry foul, we should have been doing it back in September and October. Instead, the Cruz campaign chose to play nice with Trump. This helped him win in Iowa and to stay alive the longest, but it also enabled Trump to be the anti-Establishment candidate of choice.
These are all lessons that must be learned very quickly. With the prospects of the worst President in American history ascending to the Oval Office regardless of who wins, conservatives must fix the messaging immediately. We need to be there to pick up the pieces as things continue to crumble. It may be too late to fix the messaging for the 2016 election even at the local level, but we cannot wait until after the election to start formulating our survival plan.
To do this, we have to hearken to the words of William F. Buckley, Jr.
“A conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling ‘stop!’”
If Trump loses, the GOP will attempt to redefine itself as it has attempted to do every time it loses the Presidential election. Unfortunately, it always redefines itself into a different variation of itself that ends up being the same thing. No matter what any pundit tells you, the GOP ceased being the party of Reagan the moment that he left office. This has been the party of neocons and moderation… the party of Bush. G.H.W., Dole, G.W., McCain, and Romney were all variations of the same theme. If the Trump experiment fails to yield a victory, they will go back to moderate milquetoast and there’s nothing the Tea Party or anyone else can do to stop them for another three or four election cycles.
If Trump wins, the GOP will be fundamentally changed (as it is already showing signs of being). Label its different factions however you’d like. The “Alt-Right,” the Establishment money brokers, the populists, and nationalists… the only group that will not have representation within the GOP if Trump wins would be the conservatives. Sure, there will still be conservative politicians within the Republican Party, but they will be neutered. The Freedom Caucus has been growing but will have reached its peak with a Trump victory. If the Trump experiment succeeds, the GOP will no longer be the default home for conservatives.
Regardless of who wins the election, the nation needs a strong conservative movement to succeed. Our current direction has both major parties shifting further to the left. Now’s the time to yell, “stop!”
The goal is clear. Now, all we need is a plan.
The only viable way to get the proper messaging out is through a new political party. Every attempt to shift the GOP has been thwarted. When leaders of the Tea Party movement tell me they wonder whether they made the right decision in 2009 to not form an actual party, their regrets reflect the challenges with trying to shift the GOP.
Every attempt to rise up through some of the other third parties has failed miserably. For example, the Constitution Party has some great conservative ideas, but their messaging is poor. Their delivery method for their messaging is even worse. I understand that conservatives are supposed to be old fashioned, but the party’s online presence is laughable. The New Americana is barely four months old and gets twice as much traffic as the Constitution Party’s website. That shouldn’t be the case, especially for a party that’s a quarter century old.
We need a new party, one that embraces conservative politicians, conservative media (no, not Breitbart or Drudge), and other parties. When this party hits a tipping point, we’ll work with the other small conservative parties to unite. That’s not imperative, but it would help us get to the next level as quickly as possible.
So far, the outpouring of support for the movement and the party has been outstanding. Thousands have offered to volunteer, donate, and spread the message. This is a testament to the desire for something new because it’s happening before we’ve started accepting donations, positioning volunteers, or finalized the initial messaging. Heck, at this point we don’t even have a name for the party. Don’t let that worry you, though. We’re first working on building a strong foundation (no, not like Hillary’s) upon which to build.
The standard processes required to form a party are in motion. We’re examining ballot access, preparing the proper filings with the FEC, and reaching out to those who have more experience in these matters. Beyond that, we’re laying the groundwork for a process that takes advantage of the groundswell of support and need within the conservative movement to do things that no major party has been able to accomplish in the digital age. It’s upon these concepts and the delivery of results that we’ve built our confidence in the success of this party. Briefly, here are some bullet points to highlight our activities since the seed of a new conservative party was planted a little over a month ago:
- As conservatives lose primaries, we’re reaching out to them to bring them into the fold. If you can contact any candidates you’ve supported at any level who needs to talk to us, please reach out.
- With every issue, we’re developing a modern flow of information to properly educate the masses. This flow allows us to take advantage of the new media pyramid; messages should have versions that range from 140-character Tweets all the way to complete policy white papers and everything in between. This has been handled poorly by conservatives over the years. Thankfully, liberals are only doing a fair job of it and the GOP Establishment has failed to even attempt it.
- We’re embracing the “untainted” channels of the Tea Party. There is a great divide not often discussed within the different Tea Party groups. Trump has caused small civil wars that challenge their effectiveness. Thankfully, not all of them have sold out small government conservatism to hop on the Trump train. We’re talking to some of these groups, including one of the largest, and we’re hearing very positive feedback about getting their support as we work together to spread the conservative message.
- One of the biggest mistakes that new parties make is focusing solely on now rather than working for today AND tomorrow. The long game for a new party must be centered on education. It’s not just educating current voters. We have to start educating future voters. Many on the right have abandoned the education ecosystem, having assumed liberals have colleges locked up on their side. We’ve seen people like Ben Shapiro break through to reach them. We also know that there are ways for parents to prepare their children before they even go off to college. By giving them the tools and knowledge they need, we can slow the indoctrination process the liberals have used for decades and reverse the trend. Conservatives often forget that we’re on the right side of the truth. The only way we’ll lose American youth to liberalism is if we concede that they’ve already won. They haven’t. We’re exploring programs to help college and pre-college students to build up their conservative defenses.
- One of the most important campaigns we’re planning is the #TakeBackConservatism movement. This will run in parallel with the American Conservative Movement (more on that in the near future) to reclaim the concept of conservatism. Today, there are three sentiments: conservatism is represented by the GOP, conservatism is bad, and conservatism is neither represented by the GOP nor is it bad. Sadly, the last sentiment is the one that has the least traction despite it being the absolute truth. When we launch the #TakeBackConservatism campaign, we’ll define it for what it is rather than how it’s been positioned by those who have hijacked it.
There’s much more happening, but it’s important to understand one thing: we’ve scrapped more ideas than we’ve adopted. This is important because it’s far too easy to get excited about concepts that can take the party down the wrong path. We want to move quickly, but we want to be as strategic as possible. Think of it as being in a hurry without being in a rush. For this party to be successful when so many others have failed, we’ll need to take advantage of velocity. This is a concept that belongs more in marketing and PR rather than politics, but in order to make this work, we’re going to have to adopt some modern marketing principles or end up being another group in a sea of third parties that never amounted to much.
We’re not doing this to make a statement. We’re doing it to make an impact. There are few things that are more important than halting the existential threats facing America if true conservatism continues down the road to mediocrity and obscurity.
Now is the time to yell “stop!” Once we get them to stop, we have to point them towards a new direction. That direction is Constitutional conservatism. The vehicle to take us down that road can no longer be the GOP.