When I started Turning Point USA at the age of 18, I was often guilty of applying a “purity” test when discussing issues or evaluating politicians and activists. For example, if someone wasn’t promoting a purely free-trade solution to America’s problems, I wasn’t listening. Over the past three years, on this issue and many others, I have changed my mind. And I haven’t been alone. Millions of like-minded Americans have also changed their minds on issues once considered indisputable, conservative doctrine.
As someone who became known as an activist and built a national campus organization all while being called “too conservative” and racist; all while getting written up by Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hatewatch” blog; all while being on the receiving end of multiple hit pieces either directly stating or implying that I’m a bigot and my organization traffics in bigotry, it’s an admittedly new experience that some are now applying conservative purity tests to me. These tests focus on my support for President Trump, my stance on immigration, and my beliefs about the use of America’s military.
Normally, I prefer to allow my body of work to speak for itself, which I believe it does. However, these questions are part of a larger, ongoing debate taking place within the political Right on many important questions, and when people I respect start contacting me and asking that I assure them of my conservative bona fides, it’s best to address these questions head on.
So, let’s discuss my support of President Trump first.
Frankly, the assertion that I am a “fake” supporter of the president is laughable to anyone who knows me personally. But let’s rewind the tape in any event.
In 2016, the American people elected a president who ran as a Republican, but who was completely unlike any other Republican we’d ever seen. Donald Trump ran on a platform of placing American interests first by taking many difficult—some said “impure”—steps to restore American greatness. Many of his positions were well outside of established dogma of the Bush-McCain-Romney years in terms of substance and especially style, but the essence of his message was ultimately very simple. If somebody like me wanted to live in a country that still resembled the miracle of our founding, conservatives were going to have to learn to fight back against a hostile news media and a far-left mainstream culture leading an assault on traditional American values.
By any possible measure, I’ve devoted my life to doing just that.
Yes, it’s true, a year before the 2016 election, I was still skeptical that a billionaire from New York City with no real political record was going to be as conservative as some of the other candidates—like, say, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the candidate I and many other evangelicals endorsed early on. But once he secured the nomination, I unreservedly did everything within my personal power to help get Donald Trump into the White House. This included speaking at the RNC and traveling the country with Donald Trump, Jr. for three months leading up to Election Day.
Don’t forget, the decision to fully embrace our nominee was not a foregone conclusion. Many “conservatives” openly fought his candidacy while others ultimately did “come home” as then vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence implored, but only through gritted teeth.
Let’s also remember that the vice president himself, a man I greatly admire and who is as fierce a defender of the president as anyone, initially endorsed Cruz, too. In other words, this purity test is utterly ridiculous and it ignores the normal political process of choosing a nominee. A better standard is whether someone supported Trump once he was the nominee and whether they now support his agenda as president. I certainly do.
Unfortunately, almost three full years into the Trump presidency, too many “Republicans” have chosen not to jump aboard the train. Some are still actively obstructing the president’s agenda and are either intentionally or unwittingly in league with the Left. They fail to understand what really happened in 2016, and many will be primaried as a result. As someone who has been deeply critical of the political rot within the Republican establishment, I understand why the base is desperate to finish what began in 2016. In short, this means a pro-citizen immigration policy that includes pursuing a pro-worker trade policy, recognizing the threat from China, and ending winless foreign wars.
On Immigration and Assimilation
I concede that I have spoken too loosely about F-1 and H1-B visas, those designed for students and skilled workers respectively. I was attempting, albeit poorly, to make the point that if we’re going to take in legal immigrants (which is simply a current political reality whatever the total number ends up being) they should be the best and the brightest the world has to offer.
I was picturing the Michael Jordan or the Elon Musk of immigrants, for example. But apart from simply being talented, they should also love this country and share our values, a point I’ve failed to articulate fully in the past. By contrast, our current system is inundated by unskilled workers coming in by the millions and driving down wages for America’s most vulnerable workers. Our immigration status quo is unacceptable.
I’ve since become aware, specifically when it comes to F-1 visas, that the criticisms about systemic fraud and abuse are completely warranted. The university cartel, as I refer to it, has grown reliant on the high tuition paid by foreign students to fund the salaries of their bloated administrative operations.
President Trump has even ordered a crackdown on F-1 recipients who too often turn into visa overstays. The system originally was designed to spread American goodwill around the world by sending graduates who studied in America and learned to love our people and values back to where they came from to build cultural bridges abroad. Now, instead of returning these students home, U.S. universities are colluding with corporations by turning to graduating F-1 and H1-B workers to systematically replace skilled Americans with cheaper foreign labor. This has to stop.
Here are some immigration policies I do support: building the wall as a first priority; ending birthright citizenship; establishing English as the official language of the United States; ending chain migration and the visa lottery; lowering overall legal immigration levels; and dramatically increasing enforcement of E-Verify and visa overstays.
Since Ronald Reagan’s mass amnesty in the 1980s, no issue provokes a sense of betrayal among conservatives more than immigration. Most recently, it’s the failure to authorize the construction of a border wall with full military enforcement during the first two years of Trump’s presidency. Conservatives also rightly point to the Democrats’ recent electoral sweep in Virginia, changing demographics in Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, and Nevada, along with California’s long slide into a deep blue state as warning signs Republicans have continually failed to heed. Even the New York Times and the Washington Post acknowledge mass immigration is wreaking havoc on formerly conservative strongholds, and they’re practically giddy about it.
While I vehemently reject the notion that the melanin content in someone’s skin determines their views and voting patterns, it’s plain that culture plays a significant role at the ballot box. It means conservatives must do a better job winning over minority voters of all varieties—both native- and foreign-born.
New immigrant waves to America trend progressive upon arrival, partly because of their native cultures, but also because Democrats promise to give them more stuff. We have to reach out to these communities, not alienate them with anti-immigrant rhetoric that signals they are not welcome as conservatives.
We need to remind immigrants who are already here that the reason they wanted to be in American in the first place is because we are different—and better—than the places they just left or fled, and if they want to contribute to the greatness of America they must oppose the empty promises of socialism.
The glass half-full view of our current immigrant reality is that after two or three generations, voting patterns for these communities historically have normalized to reflect something closer to the rest of the electorate and I believe that if conservatives do our job, this can remain true. But it’s a big job. In a country with more than 67 million residents now speaking a language other than English at home—a number roughly equal to the population of France—that’s an enormous number of newcomers to properly assimilate. In fact, it constitutes one of the largest movements of people in the history of humanity.
Beyond sheer numbers, there is a modern-cultural dynamic that fails to encourage a full buy into our American culture, causing the word “assimilation” to be viewed as a dirty word that triggers a violent college-aged tantrum on most of the campuses I visit. Against that backdrop, anxiety over mass immigration must not be dismissed as mere xenophobia and racism. Instead, much like after a large meal, our country needs time to digest (assimilate) what we’ve just taken in.
I believe that the RAISE Act, sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) and endorsed by President Trump, is among the most politically viable pieces of immigration reform legislation on offer that actually addresses root problems. The bill ends the visa lottery, greatly reduces chain migration, cuts total refugee resettlements, and creates a merit-based system that “scores” applicants on relevant factors such as education level, work experience and English language proficiency. Perhaps most importantly, the RAISE Act would reduce legal immigration levels by approximately half, taking us back to numbers not seen since before President George H.W. Bush’s misguided Immigration Act of 1990.
Any solution to our current immigration crisis must include addressing both illegal and legal immigration. Any measure that doesn’t will signal betrayal to the conservative base.
On National Defense and U.S. Wars Abroad
Next up, ending endless foreign wars. This is an issue I’ve been passionate about advocating in recent years and anyone who suggests the opposite is lying. Just check my Twitter feed for multiple posts like this from February 2016, months before Trump had secured the nomination:
Trump is right. We should not have gone into Iraq.
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) February 14, 2016
The U.S. military and the men and women who proudly serve are not tokens on a Risk game board for politicians to use for their own political expediency. Both of the Bush presidents, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama are all guilty of getting the United States embroiled in never-ending foreign interventions. And despite the mountain of evidence conclusively affirming the futility of such missions, establishment neoconservatives still shockingly push these policies at the highest levels of our government.
We need to end endless wars before we begin them. It’s great that Americans largely revere our men and women in the military, but we can best show our support by not sending them to die in senseless wars on foreign battlefields.
Republicans running in 2020 should pledge to withdraw from Afghanistan immediately. Simultaneously they should pledge never again to send America’s best and bravest into harm’s way unless our interests are directly threatened and we clearly understand what victory looks like. The president has done a masterful job in this respect, especially considering the variety of very difficult challenges he inherited from his predecessors.
I believe the most interesting debates happening today in American political discourse are not between the Left and the Right, but rather within the Right. We should not shy away from our differences but embrace the dialogue in good faith and with the understanding that the best ideas and the best leaders will win, and the conservative movement will be better off as a result.
But we must resist applying fake purity tests and threatening public excommunications of conservatives who differ on significant, but complex issues. Let’s persuade and convince our ideological allies and when we’re wrong, admit it and move on. This is how we conservatives will win together in 2020.