Memo 06.01.2022 12 minutes

The Origins of the New Right – And its Future

Donald Trump rally in North Carolina

A true America First platform is the only way forward.

The conservative movement has reached a definitive turning point in 2022. We can clearly see the emergence of a new right forming before our very eyes. The political process which ignited anew with onset of the Trump era is maturing, and a whole new crop of leaders are grabbing the proverbial baton, furthering and deepening the ideological and intellectual strands of the movement. The old Republican Party, which despite winning some electoral victories, has been on life support for years now. The energy of the grassroots, and now more and more of new elected officials, is giving way to a new nationalist, conservative populism which, in a very positive way, is bigger than Donald Trump.

To understand the evolution of the grassroots conservative movement of today, it’s informative to go back to the 1990s. At the time, America felt wholly triumphant. The Cold War was won, communism was vanquished, and the economy was awash in easy cash of the dot com era. Of course, there were many deep problems in America–spiritual, moral, and economic to name a few–but the patina of optimism of the 90s made them much harder to see.

Politically, Republicans and Democrats still bickered and engaged in partisan fighting, but there was little doubt in the fundamental beliefs of globalism and secularism. The desirability of open trade, mass immigration, and the assurance of America as the world’s police force were never seriously questioned. And why would they be? America was top dog. It was the end of history, and we were the winners. McDonald’s and Nikes for everyone. Anyone who feels different “goes voluntarily into a madhouse,” as Nietzsche would say.

Then September 11th, 2001 happened. The heinous attacks woke Americans up to the harsh realities of a changing global landscape that had been hidden behind the venire of 90s exuberance. Unfortunately, we learned all the wrong lessons from it. Instead of responding to the attacks by restricting immigration and second-guessing ­­­unchecked globalism, we created a massive domestic surveillance state, commissioned more federal bloat with the establishment of the DHS, and employed tens of thousands of unionized TSA agents. Instead of realizing that there are fundamental cultural differences with the Muslim world, we tried to turn Iraq into a western style democracy. And when a cataclysmic act of “holy war” should have roused us from our secular fever dream, we instead doubled down on a neoliberal secularism ill-suited for the coming conflicts of the 21st century. After 9/11, America should’ve become a serious country again. Instead, the George W. Bush years saw a succession of failed wars, failed policies, and finally, a financial crisis that resulted in the election of Barack Obama.

Red state America was stunned by the rise of Obama in 2008, but even then, the establishment Republican Party was frozen in a retrograde response, plagiarizing talking points from pages from the Reagan administration. Instead, the rebellion against Obama’s “fundamental transformation” of America was left to the grassroots. Thus, the Tea Party movement began. Millions of Americans joined, organized, and donated to Tea Party groups in the hope of stalling President Obama’s agenda. The Tea Party was comprised of a ragtag group of everyday activists who spread the message to millions more. But the grassroots energy still couldn’t propel a candidate to win at the national level. In 2012, the Tea Party had to settle for Mitt Romney, who of course lost to Obama and has been a stooge for Democrats ever since.

It wasn’t until 2016 when the grassroots energy created by the Tea Party would be translated into a presidential candidate in the form of the Donald Trump campaign. But so much had changed between 2012 and 2016 that even a Tea Party-style movement was ill equipped to overcome it. Like a cancerous tumor, the academic language of intersectionality and wokeness was already taking root, first conquering college campuses before moving to corporate boardrooms and eventually the halls of Congress. Racial tensions were inflamed during the Obama years, with the Black Lives Matter movement being born from media lies like “Hands up, don’t shoot” in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting. Meanwhile, the rise of Bernie Sanders surprised many across the aisle, proving that when our economy isn’t rewarding every day, middle-class workers, left-wing socialists rise.

By the time the 2016 election came, we needed more than just the Tea Party. We needed someone who could take the fight to the culture and masterfully play the media. We were lucky, then, that Donald Trump stepped into the fray. Only Trump could bulldoze the Republican establishment—which had actively fought the grassroots from taking control of the party—radically reshaping and challenging GOP orthodoxy in a hostile takeover.

The Trump presidency came and went with a series of great accomplishments. Let nobody downplay the successes of those four years–there were tremendous victories both at home and abroad. Most importantly, there were four years of a president who didn’t cower to the media, the deep state, or the political establishment of either party.

However, it is also true that Trump was hamstrung by several factors. Despite Republican majorities for two years, Trump had to deal with a Paul Ryan-led House that diverted crucial attention and political capital away from important campaign promises like building the wall, restricting immigration, and taking on left-wing corporations. There were also infuriating moments like Sen. John McCain’s 3 AM vote to kill an Obamacare repeal, and the ever-annoying presence of the “old crow” Mitch McConnell setting up roadblock after roadblock to MAGA. 

There was also the deep state’s unrelenting war waged on Trump’s presidency. First, there was Russiagate and Comey, which morphed into the Mueller investigation, a farce that dragged on for two years only to produce nothing (and has recently been tied directly to the Hillary Clinton Campaign). Then there was the failed CIA-instigated impeachment of Trump over his “perfect” phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Finally, there was the COVID-19 pandemic, which not only crushed America under a series of lockdown measures, but also served as the pretext for massive vote-by-mail schemes that likely succeeded in preventing Trump’s second term. Finally, Trump was impeached yet again in the aftermath of January 6th.

This brings us to the current moment. Populist conservatives like JD Vance and Blake Masters are on the rise; President Trump remains virtually in full control of the GOP; and his endorsement has proven crucial to most candidates’ primary success. The new right is clearly on the rise. But it’s far too early to declare victory. For the new right to win, it must elucidate crystal clear policies and values that it stands for. It needs to set its principles now or risk setting itself up for imminent failure. As someone who is deeply entrenched in the grassroots movement, and who knows and supports many of its most outspoken proponents, allow me to articulate what should be, the new right’s bedrock non-negotiables.

It starts with establishing an immigration system that ensures our country is no longer taken advantage of. No issue is more important in determining the future of our country. We need an immigration policy that prioritizes American workers, not foreign nationals. We need to build the wall and end illegal immigration completely. And we need to dramatically lower the level of foreign workers coming into the United States at the expense of American jobs and salaries.

Second, we must reorient American foreign policy in a realistic, America First direction. We have no desire to nation-build or warmonger abroad. For 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, America has engaged in many useless conflicts aimed at creating democracy in far-flung corners of the world. We’re done with that. We also need to take a good look at our membership in organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Our membership in organizations with defensive treaties must be examined carefully to determine what is truly in our interest. This is not to say that we should be isolationist, quite the opposite. We should engage with world powers as we see fit, not rely on old ways of thinking and failed globalist policies. This also means targeting the Washington, D.C. cabal of corrupt foreign lobbying from unfriendly powers, and of course, the military industrial complex that seeks to profit from endless U.S. adventurism abroad.

Third, there needs to be a total and complete war on wokeness. At school boards, in state houses, inside corporate boardrooms, and on college campuses, wokeness needs to be eradicated. The toxic ideology of Critical Race Theory, pronouns, the radical trans madness, and the myriad attacks on our history must be destroyed. Wokeness and intersectionality are cancers on the American body politic, and the conservative movement needs to identify threats and fight them on every front.

Fourth, our unconditional love for the corporation is over. The new right must focus on economic patriotism. Corporations that push woke values on our children will find no friends on the new right. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ crackdown on Disney in response to their left-wing activism is a model for all to follow and we must use state power to regulate big tech corporations like Meta, Twitter, and Amazon until they completely embrace free speech on their platforms. The best and most straightforward way to guarantee this is to make the rules of social media companies reflect the same exact standard of lawful speech enshrined in our Constitution. Anything that one can say or do in a public park is what they can say or do on Twitter or Facebook, without restriction or censorship. When conservatives have the right to unfettered speech online, a massive pillar of the left’s power will be taken away.

Fifth, we must become the most pro-family, pro-parents party the country has ever known. Fundamentally, the new right must be about decentralizing power away from the D.C. bureaucrats and the consultant class, and there is no purer path to doing so than empowering the American family. We must be in favor of policies that empower married couples to have children affordably, and we must enable them to safeguard their children’s’ education. Not only is this the right thing to do, it will also create a political siphoning effect, drawing away key minorities from the Democrat Party to the new conservative brand. If we are truly going to be America first, we must put American families first.

Finally, nothing we do to save our civilization will be worth it if we lose God. America, its system of law, and its very character have all been forged in the Judeo-Christian heritage passed down to us from our Founders. The revitalization of Christianity in the public square is essential to building a better American future. Christians must be ecumenical, coming together across denominations to rebuild a common moral culture. We must fight the civilizational ennui that results from atheism and postmodernism. Moral relativism on questions of gender and abortion must be rejected. This also means rejecting the race essentialism and affirming that no one of any race is born wrong. We are all made in God’s image and must reject the false ideology of intersectionality that reduces people down to existing only within the marginalized group they were born. Along with this comes a broader defense of our history and Western civilization. While we are far from perfect, Western Civilization, rooted in faith and its traditions–legal, intellectual, spiritual–must thrive if America is to thrive. The new right can be the catalyst for this spiritual renewal.

While some on the new right may squabble with one position or another, these principles together hold the key to victory. Not just political victory, but civilizational. If we stick to these principles now and reshape the Republican Party in this direction from within, then we may yet restore America to her true form.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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