Conservatism, Inc. Fiddles While the Republic Burns

While members of the conservative think tank elite, outfitted in black tie and ball gowns, sat celebrating themselves in a Washington, D.C., ballroom listening to Dierks Bentley and popping off fireworks over the Potomac, their opponents in Minnesota were pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, enacting “motor voter” laws, and establishing pop-up polling locations wherever they expected a balloting hotspot might be (think drop boxes on steroids).  

While the Left is actually working to achieve generational political power, elites on the Right seem satisfied to simply celebrate . . . what? The latest white paper? The sold-out conference on how the Left is beating them in the political arena? Another record fundraising year where 60 percent of the funds go to promote the institution rather than on-the-ground efforts to implement the ideas? It’s usually all of the above.  

Anyone invested in liberty, free markets, and a fundamental respect for life should be horrified by the Left’s obsession with complete power. But this has been the trend for years. One should have a healthy, if only grudging, respect for the sheer force of effort, skill, and chicanery the Left perpetrates every day in the pursuit of its goals. The Left is wired for the pursuit of political power because they understand a very simple truism that my organization, American Majority, constantly emphasizes: politics is policy. The Left knows that if it has political power it gets to implement whatever hideous policy ideas they have—and, as we have seen, they have a lot of them.

Now juxtapose the Left’s pursuit and use of the sledgehammer of raw political power, with Conservatism, Inc. fiddling while the republic burns. 

Nothing could have highlighted how the Left and Right approach “change” in this country better than the Left’s moves in Minnesota occurring simultaneously with the Heritage Foundation’s anniversary celebration for all of whatever it is that think tank now does.

The juxtaposition is a stark reminder that the fact of existence doesn’t equal achievement: I would argue most think tanks, especially the ones in D.C., haven’t accomplished anything meaningful in the last few decades to improve the situation in this country for the Right. In fact they have presented the wrong tactics and strategy with the wrong people all while generating false hope among their donors and our society that they can achieve any outcome of real merit.

When I hear people thinking about investing in think tanks, I hear, “Let’s invest in more losing.” When the Heritage Foundation began in 1973, it ushered in the dawn of a new age of “conservative” think tanks. At that time the national debt was $458 billion. Over the course of the last 50 years, we’ve dumped billions of dollars into these organizations. The national debt is now $33 trillion. Far be it from me to suggest that we’ve been completely wrong about where we spend our dollars, but those think tanks aren’t conserving much of anything but their nice buildings and sinecures. 

Don’t hate the messenger: the numbers and data speak, overwhelmingly, for themselves. So maybe, just maybe, we might want to examine what we’re actually doing moving forward before the republic is completely gone and we have zero chance of ever restoring it.

More than 70 years ago, the Left funded by the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and other staid-but-strayed foundations began investing in institutions in Washington and New York to support their policy endeavors. And it makes sense that 50 years ago, conservatives sought to build similar institutions as a counterbalance. But during that time, the Left continually has invested in every other tool necessary for seizing and controlling power in our country.  

The Left’s nonprofit money funds investigative journalism, lawfare, voter registration, community organizing, and mobilization. It dumped more than $400 million into battleground states in 2020 alone to (very questionably) boost the blue vote in blue counties. They do all these things to build the mechanism of achieving power. Not the Right. No, we write white papers about what should be done instead of doing what it takes to achieve power. 

Maybe we should start thinking about how we reposition ourselves, our strategy, our tactics, and our funding before it’s too late? Because, trust me, we’re not beating back the militant Left by swatting at them with white papers. And what we could be doing right now is educating people about “ballot out, ballot in” efforts for next year and registering people to vote instead of blowing $125 million a year on the Heritage Foundation.

It can and should be done. Look at how far Florida has come in just the past five years. The Democrats held a more than 250,000 voter registration advantage in 2018. Now the GOP has a 450,000 voter advantage in the Sunshine State. How? By spending $2-3 million a year on voter registration. And even when the Republicans were down significantly in registration advantage, they still won 21 of 24 statewides since 2010. How? By investing at least $10 million into an absentee ballot chase program over the final six weeks of every general election to pull an 80-90 percent return on absentee ballots.  The money chasing those absentee ballots is partisan, not nonprofit, but nevertheless most big donors at this stage aren’t terribly interested in write-offs. They’re interested in winning, as is 99 percent of the base.

We have just over 18 months before a truly monumental election for the direction of this country. Let’s stop partying like it’s 1984. Let’s stop squandering time and money. The fate of the republic is in the balance.

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: iStock/Getty Images

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