NeoCons’ Newfound Obsession with ‘Don’t Own the Libs’

Nikki Haley’s self-righteous declaration that young conservatives should not try to “own the libs” boils down to the foolish notion that we should not actively try to defeat our political opponents because we need to take the moral high ground and focus on losing with dignity.

It should go without saying that Haley’s view constitutes intellectual laziness, a misplaced sense of morality, and rhetorical dishonesty. It has all the makings of a bad idea.

But the U.N. ambassador is not alone in thinking so. This is one bad idea that is spreading like a virus through the neoconservative establishment and its diminutive (but loud) following among the generation coming of age.

From Bad to Worse
After Haley made her absurd statement last month at a Turning Point USA summit for high school students, the message resurfaced at the 40th Annual National Conservative Student Conference, hosted by Young America’s Foundation. The event in past years has featured a plethora of right-wing voices, ranging from anti-Trumpers such as Jonah Goldberg and David French to vehemently pro-Trump voices like Newt Gingrich and Nigel Farage.

One of this year’s headliners was U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). In his speech, Rubio hopped right on Nikki Haley’s train of thought to nowhere. “There’s nothing about ‘owning the libs’ in the Pledge of Allegiance,” Rubio said.

Conservatives jumping to cite the Pledge of Allegiance is the Right’s equivalent of the Left citing the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty, a favorite touchstone that proves nothing. Even if the pledge ended in “with liberty and owning the libs for all,” it would not make its wording any more true or false. The Pledge of Allegiance is not the same as the law of the land.

Then again, the U.S. Constitution says nothing explicitly about defeating liberals, either—even though Democrats are embracing socialism and have long implicitly rejected the Founders’ (small-r) republican understanding of government.

You could argue forever about what is not included in the most ancient and sacred documents of our country’s history, but that amounts to political sophistry. So the analogies are silly—and beside the point.

Choose Your Messenger
Now one needn’t be reminded that Rubio, in every sense of the phrase, is a political has-been. The man who was once considered the “future of the party” . . . isn’t. Whether it was him turning into a broken record on the debate stage and repeating a line verbatim five times in a row, or his devastating loss of his own home state to Donald Trump, no one saw their political prospects fall harder and faster than Rubio, with perhaps the exception of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Yes, Rubio won re-election to the Senate, but these days he has been relegated to the back of the political theater. Whenever he does make an appearance, it’s for some spiteful purpose, as when he recently torpedoed one of Trump’s nominees for the uber-leftist Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, because of “principles” or something.

Just as attendees of last year’s conference were better off listening to Farage than to Goldberg, this year’s audience would be wise to set aside Rubio’s misguided lessons in favor of Daily Wire host Michael Knowles, who happened to publish an article exactly on point shortly after Haley’s speech.

Aptly titled “In Defense of ‘Owning the Libs’,” Knowles breaks down how either of the two ways of “owning the libs”—defeating them in arguments, or deliberately “triggering” them into a frenzy—work well in defeating the Left, and can only serve to recruit more people to the Right by exposing either the Left’s lack of logic, or its lunacy.

This certainly sounds more promising, and more rewarding, than rejecting sound tactics in the name of “principles.”

The Haley vs. Trump Myth
Perhaps there is another reason that Rubio and others have followed Haley’s lead without much in the way of thought. The sycophantic voices that have praised Haley have little to offer beyond deference to her point of view.

For the last few years now, Haley repeatedly has been propped up by many talking heads on both sides of the aisle as a presidential contender for the post-Trump era. Each side has their own motivations for foisting the former South Carolina governor on the country as the future of the GOP.

The mainstream media coronates her as the future of the party for the same reason it similarly crowned Ben Shapiro as the leader of the Young Right: to highlight conflict with President Trump.

However, whereas Shapiro’s anti-Trump stance is plain as day and something he actively displays, Haley’s supposed rivalry with the president is more of a smokescreen, put in place to fulfill the Left’s fantasies of a civil war within the White House. Although the two allegedly had a disagreement on the implementation of Russian sanctions, Haley refused to take the bait and rejected media reports that their relationship had soured.

This has proven to be another one of Haley’s strengths, alongside her one-woman crusade against the globalists at the United Nations; she has not fallen into the same self-aggrandizing trap as such figures like Senators Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). She does not actively speak out against the president in exchange for some virtue-signaling points that may earn her favor with the Weekly Standard crowd; she knows her place in the administration and serves her commander-in-chief loyally, rather than incite division out of some selfish desire for personal gain.

Hillary Haley?
Nevertheless, the speculation of a potential Haley presidential campaign in 2024 (or perhaps even 2020) continues, and perhaps for another reason that her supporters on the Right will never admit: Identity politics.

If elected, Haley would not only be the first female president but also the first Indian-American president. Truth is, many of her supporters on the Right would love nothing more than to see a Republican, not a Democrat, elected as the first woman president while also achieving another milestone for a member of a minority group in America. Which would be fine if these same people weren’t so quick to condemn the Left for its shameless embrace of identity politics.

The implications should be clear, of course, that favoring such petty presidential milestones over solid policy and a winning coalition is the pinnacle of political foolhardiness. The Democrats made this exact same mistake in 2016 with their supposed champion to become the first woman president. It would be ironic for the Republicans to do the exact same thing in 2024—and get well and truly owned by the libs in the process.

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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About Eric Lendrum

Eric Lendrum graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was the Secretary of the College Republicans and the founding chairman of the school’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter. He has interned for Young America’s Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and the White House, and has worked for numerous campaigns including the 2018 re-election of Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-22). He is currently a co-host of The Right Take podcast.