In January 2015, only three of the eventual 2016 presidential candidates attended the South Carolina Tea Party Convention: Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump. At the time, few could have imagined that in less than a year and a half, those three men would receive an astonishing 72.6 percent of the votes cast nationwide in the Republican presidential primaries. The other 14 Republican presidential candidates—including such establishment favorites as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich—won barely over a quarter of the vote combined.
A few months later, the Democratic Party establishment received a similar rebuke, as Trump—a man who, unlike every prior elected president dating back to 1789, had never served as a vice president, governor, cabinet secretary, senator, congressman, or commanding general—beat the quintessential establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, by 77 electoral votes.
It is hard to imagine a more profound rebuke of the establishment “elites” of both parties. Yet, Sgt. Schultz-like, the establishment has largely pretended not to have noticed. They still have the advantage in raising money and plenty of cheerleaders in the press corps.
For many Republican officeholders, therefore, it’s business as usual, with maybe a bit of populist tweaking around the edges. Democrats, meanwhile, have responded to that stinging defeat of their heir apparent by moving even further to the left, the opposite direction of where most voters wanted them to go. In short, the establishment members of both parties haven’t gotten the message.
The “think tank” world—the realm of organizations (in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere) that provide intellectual support for policymakers’ agendas—has also been largely indifferent to voters’ concerns. With a few exceptions, think tanks are either woke, establishment, or both. Most of them cater to elites while largely ignoring the views and concerns of everyday Americans.
The importance of a Main Street-oriented agenda, combined with establishment think tanks’ general determination to prioritize well-funded interests in Washington, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley, led me to found the American Main Street Initiative. The Initiative (launched with the help of Jim DeMint’s Conservative Partnership Institute) is a small, nimble think tank that advances a pro-America, pro-Main Street agenda and stands up for everyday Americans against coastal elites.
The American Main Street Initiative (whose board of advisors includes Fred Barnes, Michael Barone, Charles Kesler, and Heather Mac Donald) believes that America’s founders got it right; that government should be limited; that the powers of government should be separated; that we should focus on fixing what the federal government has broken, rather than giving it more power and money; that small businesses are at the heart of a republic; that the consolidation and centralization of power, whether public or private, threatens liberty; that a healthy society must police its cities and borders; that “one world nation” trade policies don’t necessarily benefit our nation; that woke teachings on race and on the nature of the sexes are contrary to American ideals and scientific facts; and that the traditional American way of life must be fought for and preserved against those who are set on “fundamentally transforming” the country.
“Main Street” is both a literal place (or a number of literal places) and a metaphor for everyday Americans. An important aspect of standing up for everyday citizens is focusing on the issues that they care about—issues that establishment politicians and think tanks, even right-leaning ones, tend to eschew. In that spirit, both before and after its official incorporation a few months ago, the American Main Street Initiative has been fighting and continues to fight tyrannical COVID mandates on philosophical grounds (“The Masking of America”), research grounds (“Do Masks Work?”) statistical grounds (“Kids Full of Life, Adults Obsessed with Death”), and separation-of-powers grounds (“Fit for a King”). It has also fought environmental extremism, fiscal profligacy, critical race theory, wokeism in corporate America, and claims of “systemic racism.”
Voters spoke volumes with their actions in 2016, and nothing that they have conveyed since has altered their general message: They are fed up with establishment elites’ disconnection from everyday Americans. Indeed, that disconnection has only become clearer during the authoritarian COVID era, as Main Street has suffered while Wall Street has flourished.
Our elected officeholders should demonstrate the truth of James Madison’s words—“the cool and deliberate sense of the community ought, in all governments, and actually will, in all free governments, ultimately prevail over the views of its rulers”—and start doing the citizenry’s bidding. For this salutary goal to be achieved, however, Main Street-oriented policymakers need compelling intellectual support from outside groups—just as establishment-oriented policymakers enjoy abundant support for their efforts.