The Stupid Money on the Right Rides the Grift Train

Recently on the America Moment podcast, Michael Anton named names regarding Conservatism, Inc. The wide-ranging interview goes on for over an hour and a half, but the best clip is here in which Anton says, 

Now I’ll name names. If you’re at National Review, AEI or Heritage Foundation, your job is to pretend to oppose but really support; your whole business model as staff and management collapses if you don’t do that. It’s an open question why the donors donate to these places. I actually believe they’re deceiving their donors for the most part; that is I’d like to believe most donors to Conservatism, Inc. (NRO, AEI, Heritage) are writing checks because they believe these guys are fighting bad leftists, socialists, Communists, America-haters, critical race theory. They’re standing athwart yelling ‘Stop!’ They really think this. They don’t think, ‘I’m writing this check so that Rich Lowry, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jonah Goldberg and other fat useless grifters can have six-figure jobs to do nothing but sell out my country and pretend that they’re saving it.’ I don’t think they’re doing that, but to be completely clear, that’s what they’re doing.

There’s a lot to unpack just in that one 60-second statement, but Anton is absolutely correct: The overwhelming majority of “conservative” donors, knowingly or unknowingly, are getting played by Conservatism, Inc., which is really about 90 percent of the so-called “conservative” think tanks in D.C. but, quite frankly, it happens even in the smaller ones across the country. I’ve been observing this phenomenon for over a decade, wondering what on earth people think they’re investing in because it can’t be effective work. Nice buildings, yes. Six and seven-figure salaries, yes. Self-validating echo chamber meetings? Yes. But work that impacts, truly impacts the direction this country is going in a positive way? Not at all; their work is barely noticeable, like cow flatulence on a windy day. I’ve written about this numerous times, here and here, and even spoken with Tucker Carlson about it as well. 

Now these groups like AEI and Heritage will claim they’re fighting to “conserve this great country,” that they’re fighting to “save ‘Merica.” No they’re not. They’re fighting to conserve their sinecures; honestly, they’re like the white washed tombs from Scripture. Bright and shiny on the outside but filled on the inside with the dry and dusty bones of tired, worn out, and ineffective ideas and approaches. 

Yet Conservatism, Inc. continues on because there is no market demand from the donors to change: The overwhelming number of donors still need to wake up and realize they can’t buy their way out of this mess. They have to pay attention because as things stand, they are part of the problem. By continuing to “invest” in ineffective work, there are opportunity costs that make the road back that much harder for all of us to pass. And it’s patently obvious for those paying attention—leaving aside Donald Trump (who most assuredly didn’t emanate from the swampy eco-system of Conservatism, Inc.)—the last four decades have been a steady march of losing. 

If, as Anton says, donors think they’re funding these entities to actually fight the leftists, the question should be very simple: proof please of your work. Strongly worded statements and white papers don’t count, for the record. Show us the action items. Words are good, to an extent, but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words and all you get from these entities is a whole lot of words. And sometimes we even get a whole lot of words that don’t even support the conservative movement, as Kay Coles James, the previous president of Heritage, made clear last year. 

Conservative donors need to become far more sophisticated. I made this point recently: George Soros dropped $980,000 into the Commonwealth’s attorney race here in Loudoun County, Virginia in 2019. Most conservative donors don’t even know the position exists. 

Of course one of the fundamental problems is that these entities, even if they wanted to do hard, effective work, are not set up, nor staffed by people who can even do any effective work in these areas. It continues to be mind-blowing how people who were clearly successful in the private sector (in order to have the funds to contribute) are so easily taken. And I can assure you, they continue to be taken as suckers. 

Between 2009-2019, Heritage Foundation raised nearly a billion dollars, roughly $973,000,000 million. It’s safe to say since its founding in 1973, Heritage has gobbled up billions in funding as this country accelerates into socialism. These donors keep throwing good money after bad as though somehow, maybe this time it’ll work. In the private sector—you know the free market system these entities love to crow about—there is something known as creative destruction in which entities that are no longer producing or competing in the marketplace cease to exist. 

The question I have for donors, but even generally those on the Right is this (and if you’ve been paying attention, you know this is simply a yes/no question): do you think that the “Conservative Movement” as currently constructed, can actually defeat the Left and save this country? I’ll give you a hint: The answer is no. As in, not even close. 

So donors on the Right can either close their eyes and ears, like the proverbial monkeys, or we can open them up, have a reckoning about what it will actually take to win and respond accordingly. Because to continue on this same path is like rearranging chairs on the decks of the Titanic in the hope that we avoid a massive iceberg and the seating is to our liking. We either change course as a movement—in our funding, in our priorities, and in our actions—or we will lose.  

About Ned Ryun

Ned Ryun is a former presidential writer for George W. Bush and the founder and CEO of American Majority. You can find him on Twitter @nedryun.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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