The following remarks were given at the National Conservative Conference on Sept. 12, 2022.
This is the first real public speaking I’ve done since my husband and I welcomed our first child, our son Gabriel, in June.
I can happily report Gabriel is a born national conservative: Sincere if a little unpolished; unabashedly pro-natalist; hostile to the agenda of ruling elites, even if I’m just trying to make a cup of coffee; does most of his damage when he looks deep in thought; and no matter how hard he tries or how loud he speaks, nobody in Washington understands what he’s trying to say.
Maybe that’s all babies. But like all babies, National Conservatism today is winning the hearts and minds of everyone who gets to know it. That’s one of the most important things this conference and this movement needs to grapple with: we’re winning.
It may not feel like it. It may not look like it. And, given the temperament of many NatCons I know, winning may even be suspected a “near occasion to sin.”
But like it or not, the National Conservative critique of both right and left, of foreign and national affairs, of social and economic policy, of elitism and populism are quickly becoming the lingua franca of American politics. The elite, decadent, uniparty consensus of Clinton-Bush-Obamaism has vanished from the debate.
Amnesty. Free trade. Engagement with China. Market self-regulation of Big Tech and Big Banks. Foreign adventurism.
Few elected officials or candidates in either party publicly advocate any of these things anymore. They may still believe in them and privately scheme on their behalf with lobbyists, corporate-funded think tanks, and donors. But the ideas themselves lack any real purchase outside of elite echo chambers.
And that’s just it. National Conservatism does not have to persuade the uniparty elite in Washington. We just have to beat them. And any reading of American politics since 2015 says, we are.
We’re winning the argument. The next step is winning the fight. That’s not the same thing as winning elections. NatCons have already won elections.
But winning the fight isn’t just about November. It’s about winning the other eleven months, too. It’s about creating a virtuous cycle of political strategy and policy reform powerful enough to realign our politics… and rescue our nation from the dangers now at her throat.
Ready or not, National Conservatism is becoming America’s political majority. Whether it becomes America’s next governing coalition is a separate question. And one almost entirely dependent on the substantive policy agenda and strategy national conservative thinkers, candidates, and elected officials offer the country.
II. Beginning of the Story: Winning, Losing, and the Power of Ideas
Over the last several years, National Conservatism has risen to prominence as the brittle, self-serving policies of Washington’s permanent class have begun to collapse under their own weight.
On the right, DC’s institutional conservative movement has grown fat and lazy, replacing the pragmatic wisdom of old truths with dogmatic sloganeering and poll-tested pablum – increasingly divorced from day-to-day realities.
Meanwhile, the world has changed. New problems demand a new vision. As I said last year at this conference, Ronald Reagan’s agenda was successful because it fit the specific needs of his time.
We don’t need to – and we shouldn’t – throw out all our old ideas. But we do need to reprioritize them now —- when our most basic government and economic institutions are ideologically weaponized against the public.
The priorities of Federal Reserve economists, Wall Street hedge fund managers, board members of Raytheon, and globalists at the World Trade Organization have been discredited and should be discounted.
Instead, the day-to-day needs of the family must be the beating heart of this movement. That will involve economic policy. It will involve choices about national defense, technology, higher education, and health care. Because the revelation of our movement is that every policy choice is a family policy choice.
What separates our vision from that of Washington’s permanent class is that the family sits on top of our policy hierarchy. And every policy choice we make is subservient to the family. Not the other way around.
But it’s not enough to say it. We have to do it. And to succeed, we must have a plan. Donald Trump’s first year in office perfectly illustrates the point. The president, you’ll remember, wanted a border wall. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell wanted a corporate tax cut. One had a mandate; the others had a plan.
By contrast, the part of the Trump agenda that was mapped out, publicly, by the president, in specific detail before his inauguration were his nominations to the Supreme Court. And as a result, those commitments now have names: Justice Gorsuch, Justice Kavanaugh, and Justice Barrett.
The historical record is very clear that substantive political success in the United States depends on leaders executing an agenda rather than improvising one. And that presupposes a massive investment of time, coordination, and prioritization before any ballots are ever cast.
This is, by the way, why the ongoing feud between Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rick Scott is so illuminating. What did Rick Scott do to upset McConnell? He put out a plan. He did the thing we as a movement have been begging our leaders to do forever: He saw some real-life problems, and he put forward his ideas to fix them.
You don’t have to agree with everything Sen. Scott put forward to see the importance of what he did. McConnell and other GOP leaders would rather run on how bad the other guys are, full stop. They never tell you what they’ll actually do with the power you give them, because they don’t want to be accountable for it.
Even more to the point, they don’t want to put out an agenda because they actually loathe what most of their own voters prioritize. They think you and your choices are stupid. And they think an election means they get to substitute their own judgment for yours.
So, yes, plans matter. Details matter. Aspirations without details are just tweets. Winning on Twitter is fun, but it’s not winning.
It doesn’t matter if we “own the left” if the left still “owns” Wall Street, K Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, Silicon Valley, the Pentagon, the media, the academy, public health and hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and executive branch bureaucracies from the State Department to public libraries.
Politics is about creating opportunities; policy is about seizing them.
III. Pivot to the Future: The Moment
And let’s be very clear: our next opportunity may be the last one America gets. There is a lot of debate about what the term National Conservatism even means. To me, National Conservatism has to be the recognition that in this moment, the thing conservatives must fight to conserve is the nation itself.
The woke ideology, the universities that teach it, and the cultural and corporate elites who enforce it are fundamentally anti-American, totalitarian, and absolutely convicted about the justice of punishing dissent and destroying any check on their power.
The Left’s long “march through the institutions” was a world-changing success. Every institution – public or private – that woke elites run is being wielded, right now, as a weapon against every man, woman, child, and family in the United States.
Against the Constitution. Against religion. Against freedom. Against sex, comedy, art, and culture. Against innocence and reason, against truth itself.
Generation Woke does not want America to ever be Great Again because they don’t want America to ever be America again.
Washington Republicans and too many old-guard conservatives still don’t appreciate the full scope of the Left’s ambitions. As my friend Josh Hammer says, Woke America is a two-tiered America. In Woke America, public schools feature pornography but ban the Bible.
The FBI ignores serial sexual predators like Larry Nassar but opens domestic terrorism investigations on a father who protests the school board that covered up his daughter’s rape.
FBI employees pledge to “stop” the election of a president and are heralded as heroes. The Department of Justice raids the home of the president’s chief political opponent and expects to be congratulated for it.
In Woke America, addition and subtraction are deemed white-supremacist. Doctors are taught to prioritize race essentialism and gender-bending over actual medical science. Engineering schools now require students to write essays about their biases instead of, you know, engineering.
In Woke America, the federal government conspires with the world’s biggest surveillance and communications platforms to surveil and silence speech, dissent, and “unacceptable” commerce.
The examples above are not conjecture, but headlines. We are living in Woke America today. And it’s not going to stop. There is no limiting principle to totalitarianism – that’s why they call it totalitarianism.
Wokeism is not a fever that will pass, but a cancer that must be eradicated. The “free market” won’t do it. The corporate economy has been captured and is working for the other side: de-platforming, de-banking, censoring, purging.
The Republican Party won’t do it because it can’t be bothered. Its leaders shy away from this moment because it is an indictment that they have been part of the problem all along.
In this new reality, the only institution with the power to contend with and conquer the Woke Industrial Complex is the government of the United States.
IV. Policy: The Fierce Urgency of How
This is what I mean about The Moment. The institutional Left does not intend to leave anything of the old republic behind for us to salvage.
Constitutionalism, scientific inquiry, individual liberty, civil society voluntarism, patriotism, parental authority, free expression and free enterprise, religious pluralism, cultural diversity.
They are coming for everything. So National Conservatism must come for them.
We must forge a comprehensive policy agenda – for Congress, the presidency, and the states – to break apart the Left’s every source of funding and center of power. Not as an act of partisan retaliation, but of national survival.
To anyone still skeptical about the value of pointy-headed wonkery: how’s the GOP doing on abortion these days?
Just a few months after the greatest conservative policy victory in a generation, party leaders are afraid to talk about the Right to Life. They have no plan, no goals, not even intelligible talking points.
This is what elite political improvisation looks like. Without a commitment to grinding, empirical, collaborative policy work right now, National Conservatism’s most plausible vision of the future is an image of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s boot, stamping on an unborn baby’s face. Forever.
National Conservatives who actually want to win the fight against the Woke Industrial Complex have no choice but to embrace the fierce urgency of how.
On Life, we have plenty of law review articles. What we need are specific proposals to eliminate the federal funding of the abortion industrial complex – in Medicare and in Medicaid, in the Obamacare exchanges, and in federal grants. Including, by the way, the federal student loan bailout which will now be going to federal grantee Planned Parenthood. If California and New York want to become abortion sanctuary states, they’ll have to do it without federal dollars. And we don’t just need leaders in Congress to propose legislation. We need leaders who will force this debate and these votes on must-pass spending bills.
On Big Tech, trillion-dollar corporations like Google and Amazon control access to the market and the flow of information around the world. Facebook and Twitter work with Democrats to control public discourse. Meanwhile, their algorithms target and addict our kids at home and in the classroom.
This current structure is inconsistent with a self-governing society. Big Tech doesn’t rule us; we rule it. Big Tech firms must be broken up, made common carriers, and their business model transitioned away from commoditizing kids for profit.
The federal law enforcement, intelligence, and national security apparatus have all demonstrated their contempt for democratic accountability. These agencies must be brought to heel. Investigate them. Dismantle, rebuild, and reform them. And for crying out loud, the next time an FBI lawyer flagrantly breaks the law to spy on a presidential campaign, PUT HIM IN JAIL.
The supposedly nonpartisan civil service is nothing of the sort. It is 2 million woke jihadists with a Biden-directed mission to target, harass, and discriminate against un-woke heretics. Congress must defund the ideological initiatives and re-orient these agencies toward service, not domination.
Break up the university price-fixing cartel. Tax the endowments. Get serious about challenging the concentrated corporate power that distorts key facets of the economy: from banking, to book publishing, to baby formula.
The family is the building block of everything that matters. Expand and streamline the child tax credit for working-class families. Create a tax code that rewards marriage, instead of punishing it.
Rout the social and economic influence of China. Treat their companies, their US purchases, and their donations to nonprofits like what they are – state-owned actors, and arms of the Chinese Communist party.
Promote bilateral trade that puts American workers at the center, instead of favoring economic models or the balance sheets of giant multinationals. The border wall and long overdue legal immigration reform must be made law of the land, not just passed through the House to die in the Senate.
National Conservatives must go to school on Senate procedure, to know as much about the rules as the leaders who routinely lie to you about what is possible. Change precedent. Reinstate the filibuster for Biden judges. And if Democrats want to filibuster legislation, force them to do it for hours on the Senate floor, not from a phone call in their offices.
But to do any of this requires breaking up the Uniparty.
V. Conclusion: Changing the Game(plan)
The uniparty pretends that the only way to stop public schools grooming kids and segregating lunch rooms is to support hedge fund tax loopholes and war in Ukraine.
This isn’t the brilliant strategy of master legislative tacticians. It’s hostage taking. It’s substituting the needs of the nation’s natural majority of workers, families, patriots, and parents for the whims of bond traders and women’s studies professors. It’s the stinking rot of corrupt elitism.
But defeating it will take more than one “red wave” election. It will require a fundamental remaking of the Republican party itself.
The great right-left divide has been replaced by an up-down divide separating elites and the country they look down on. The opportunity of this moment and for this movement is to reshape our politics to give America back to whom it belongs.
To the families who don’t want the price of public education and the internet to be the innocence of their kids.
To the small towns ravaged by an opioid crisis that everyone forgot.
To the middle-aged IT worker laid off from his job, but told to train his foreign replacement before he leaves.
To the young mom and dad struggling to birth and raise children in an economy that works for everyone but them.
We cannot simply say “trust us.” Americans – especially the middle class – will doubt us, and should not be blamed for it. We have been letting them down for years. To prove ourselves, we have to do more than simply win the argument. We have to have a plan. And then we have to do it. This takes brains and preparation. But it also takes guts.
Our task is to wrest our country, our government, our economy, and our institutions from what Chesterton called “the small and arrogant oligarchies” who would savage and plunder the country for ideology, prestige, and profit. This task has never been more urgent.
Our rich traditions – the virtues and freedoms that are the birth right of every American – are too precious to be negotiated away for yet another generation of globalization and financialization; or a uniparty majority parachuted in from a 1980s country club.
Our duty to the ancient truths that bind the living, the dead, and the yet unborn is what compels us. A fierce dedication to the country we love is what unites us.
Let’s get to work.
Rachel Bovard is The Federalist's senior tech columnist and the senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. She has more than a decade of policy experience in Washington and has served in both the House and Senate in various roles, including as a legislative director and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Sen. Pat Toomey and Sen. Mike Lee. She also served as director of policy services for The Heritage Foundation.
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