A Call for Courage
Courage begins with that small majority that the Lord has given us.
The following is an adapted version of Representative Dan Bishop's keynote address at The American Conservative's 20th Anniversary Gala on November 17, 2022.
Jo and I are so happy to be with you all tonight, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to address you on the occasion of The American Conservative’s 20th Anniversary Gala.
I’m a great admirer. You think of certain websites you go to a lot, and it’s like going home to pick up some new inspiration. Matt Gaetz is here; he’s been in the House longer than I have, and he knows there are many days where we need some inspiration. It is an institution that has its share of challenges.
I’m grateful for the intellectual energy and creativity that helps to sustain and propel the work of conservatives like me in Congress and the work of building and reinvigorating the conservative movement across the country. And by that, I mean a certain type of conservative. All you folks in the room, you’ve learned these things long ago, but you’re what you might call paleoconservatives. But thanks to the lingo brought to our political lexicon by Donald Trump, I think, to borrow from Phil Gramm, you would say you were America First before America First was cool.
So, tonight, we’re finally seeing most of the ballots counted from the midterm election we had nine days ago. And, if I might, I’d like to anticipate with you the prospects for America First governance in the 118th Congress.
We now know that Republicans have won the House with a narrow majority of just a few seats, and of course we’ve lost the Senate. It’s not the red wave we hoped for and that many predicted, but I really, honestly awoke the morning after the election with this firm sense that the Lord was telling me, “I have given you everything you need.”
Of course, assessments of the election began appearing immediately. Most reflected the prior commitments of the assessor. Ergo, if you despise Trump, the disappointing outcome was because of Trump.
If you’ll indulge my assessment, I think voters rewarded candidates of demonstrated conviction and authenticity, especially those with mature and professional judgment and rhetoric. Consider my own state of North Carolina: House Freedom Caucus member and actual conservative Ted Budd is now our United States senator-elect. Ted’s 3.2 percent win sounds small, but it almost doubled Senator Tillis’s margin in 2020, despite the conventional wisdom in favor of remaining malleable and playing 51-49 politics. With very clear battle lines drawn, in a generally pink state, Republicans also won all five appellate court seats, taking over our Supreme Court, won a supermajority in the state Senate and missed it by one in the General Assembly, winning 10 Biden seats in the process.
In a more familiar example, Brian Kemp sailed to victory in Georgia after he stood his ground and pioneered resistance to the lockdown regime, and the DeSantis juggernaut continued to change the face of politics in Florida. Conviction candidates, responsible rhetoric.
But results like that coincided with underperformance of expectations in the United States Senate and House. Again, consider North Carolina. Our U.S. House districts were gerrymandered by the court, and we split with Democrats exactly as designed, seven-seven. Similar results happened across the country. While we hammered the 8 percent inflation, the fastest rise in grocery prices in 43 years, mortgage rates topping 7 percent, the worst stock market session in over two years, and rapidly growing signs of recession—something was missing. Our senior most leadership did not convince Americans that Republicans would damn well change the situation. We trotted out the gauzy Commitment to America—Matt called it the “palm card for America”—but Americans saw it as lacking detail and they weren’t convinced. The conviction wasn’t there.
So, where are we? What happens next?
Well, I can tell you that the warnings are already going around the Republican conference. “We’ve got to show we can govern! If we don’t get our act together, if we’re not unified, we’ll turn the floor over to the Democrats! And, in the blink of an eye, ‘we’ll be right back in the minority.'"
“Unified” here sounds suspiciously like “Conservatives: keep your mouths shut and vote how we tell you.”
It’s interesting—as I sat down across from Senator Jim Webb, a Democratic senator, I found it hard to conceive that a conservative could be at home in the Democratic Party today. But I will also tell you that, as we talk about Ukraine, and the neocons, it isn’t so easy for an actually genuine conservative in the Republican party either.
My chief of staff reminded me today of the words Shakespeare placed into the mouth of Julius Caesar: “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”
Perhaps it overreaches to use that quote here. We’re talking only the deaths of political careers, after all, or perhaps a political party. But I do think the sentiment is apt. I’ve only been in Washington for three years, though it seems like an eternity some days, but I’m continually amazed at the limited supply of courage and the unlimited willingness to die cowardly deaths.
What are some examples?
Well, one is the messaging bill to codify same-sex marriage that both sitting Republican senators from my state are helping to usher through the lame-duck Senate. The bill does nothing to alter the existing substantive law, which the Supreme Court has decreed for both same-sex and interracial marriage. It is instead a virtue-signaling vehicle for these Republicans to pander to people that hate them with a passion, and at the same time kick the voters in the teeth for whom they just underperformed. And although the oh-so-wise bipartisan working group now claims to have amended the language of the bill so that it doesn’t mandate the possible federal recognition of polygamy, experts are now saying that the new language not only appears to fail to accomplish its task, but also appears to legitimize marriages of children consummated outside the United States. When you seek to go social engineering in your effort to virtue signal, you might create a disaster.
Here would be another cowardly death. We all know the drill by now. Despite our House majority, appropriations bills will stall in the Senate until a shutdown crisis looms at the end of September. Then members will be told their votes are needed for a grotesque omnibus bill so that the soldiers will be paid, and the National Parks will remain open—or leadership will be forced to negotiate for votes from Democrats.
What if we responded to this moment instead with courage?
Chris Rufo understands what I’m talking about. Where did he come from? How did he become a rock star in such a short time? Well, he decided to speak truth to power and display courage. It worked. He became the chief architect of a nationwide fight against critical race theory and the sexualization of young children. He stared the Left in the eye and declared his willingness to engage in culture war. He has been utterly unafraid.
I contrast that with the newly-elected whip in the House majority, who declared that we need to keep divisive cultural issues off the floor.
I propose that we try courage in the House of Representatives.
So what would that look like? Thomas Massie of Kentucky has proposed that on January 4th, the House pass a one-year continuing resolution at 95 percent of current spending levels, to take effect only if the appropriations bills aren’t passed by September. Then, hold out for genuinely good deals on those bills. Take shutdown off the table, and let Democrats choose between a hard negotiation and a 5 percent cut.
Jim Jordan has emphasized that we must identify the leverage points during the time available to us and fight over those in the first nine months instead of drifting toward that inevitable omnibus. In other words, we need leadership to lead us in the right fights, not to lead us to two years of cowardly deaths.
Courage also will require House committees to send subpoenas and to enforce them. I know future Chairman Jim Jordan will do that on the Judiciary Committee, where I serve with Republicans who are revved up and ready to go. Jamie Comer is ready to go on Oversight and Government Reform. I hope we’ll do it on Homeland Security.
I propose that we try courage in the House of Representatives.
It is said that courage is a habit. We need to develop it. We need to see it. The leader announced some time ago we won’t give blank checks to Ukraine. I hope we see that through. And picking up on Tucker Carlson’s recent coverage, I want to learn the name of the senior unnamed U.S. intelligence official who declared that Russian missiles had landed in Poland. That’s dangerous stuff, ladies and gentlemen. There are always lots of “unnamed officials” in Washington.
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Courage begins with that small majority that the Lord has given us, where, if conservatives can muster the courage with God’s help, we can compel it in the Republican conference.
It may be that my more status quo colleagues are right. Maybe when we undertake this small majority with courage—and the challenges that may entail—the American people will punish us. Maybe they will. If so, “that [political] death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” But perhaps instead the American people will hear the rally cry and think, “at last, at last, the turn begins. Let us restore our nation together.”
Thank you all, may God bless you, and pray for God to bless the United States of America.