Conservatives at a Crossroads
The Republican Party as we know it is not prepared to meet our most serious challenges.
Remarks as prepared for the Heritage Foundation Leadership Summit on April 20, 2023.
Thank you to the Heritage Foundation, which helped inspire my interest in conservative policy twenty-three years ago. I was an intern here in the summer of 2000. What a time to be alive.
I remember telling my parents, who would ask me later about my experience: it felt just like being with family. And it still feels that way now.
I’ll try to be on my best behavior at this family gathering—I can be controversial. Last time I was with you a protestor rushed the stage. There is a crazy aunt or uncle in every family. These days, they might even be the same person. But whatever happens, it’s always good to be with family.
And the truth is: Nobody has done more in the last fifty years to fuel conservative ideas than the Heritage Foundation. And at this time of challenge—in this time for choosing—the Heritage Foundation has never been more important.
I say “choosing” because that’s where we are. A time where we as conservatives must choose what we are about.
It is my conviction: We stand at one of the great crossroads in American history. The decisions that we make in the next five, ten years will determine the shape of the next fifty or 100. And the question is, what will conservatives stand for in this hour?
Do we have what it takes to face the challenges before us? We face a rising adversary in China. We face the loss of industry at home. The unraveling of our social fabric. Falling birth rates. Falling family formation.
But above all other challenges, in my estimation, we face the radical challenge of a new Marxism. Of a new left that seeks to transform American life—to transform practically every institution we cherish, to abolish the traditional family, to rewrite American history, to purge our society of Christian influence and the Bible.
This is the Great Awokening. And my contention to you is that the Republican Party as we know it is not prepared to meet this challenge. The party as we know it must be reformed.
And the question is, can we do it? As conservatives, can we do it? Can we change this party to meet the needs of this hour?
You ask: What needs to change? Well, let me tell you a story. A story in two parts. Here’s part one.
In the 1990s, when I was yet a teenager, the world changed decisively—and so did the Republican Party. Republican leaders embraced a politics of the New World Order. And this change was not for the better.
In the 1990s, the Soviet Union collapsed. The United States prevailed. Everywhere freedom appeared to be on the march and authoritarianism in retreat. And a good part of the American intelligentsia decided that this was the natural order of things—this was nature taking its course—this was History with a capital H reaching its logical conclusion.
This was the End of History. And the End of History was not the victory of the nation-state. But the victory of a global market.
Read the End of History theorists and what you will find is the conviction that a globalized economy was the way of the future. The world was destined to become one great, unified economic empire.
Now, this had large appeal on the right. Republicans had for years defended the free market over Soviet central planning. But the kind of unified global market the End of History people foresaw was a very different thing than the free markets of nation-states.
They wanted to break down the borders between nations. They wanted the free flow of goods and capital. They wanted a “New World Order,” as George Bush Sr. would call it. “Open borders,” he said. “Open trade. Open minds.”
And that New World Order required a revolution in American policy. It meant major changes to our trade policy. Major changes to our monetary policy. And that’s what they gave us with NAFTA. Then GATT. Then the WTO and Most Favored Nation status for China.
No more protection of American manufacturing. No more fostering American industry. No, the priority now was the free movement of capital. Globalism.
The New World Order also meant major changes to our foreign policy. An economic empire required military force to defend it. And America would furnish that military force. The New World Order Republicans wanted America to be a global hegemon—the global hegemon.
And so they gave us a massive, permanent presence in the Middle East, and later, two twenty-year long wars in the Middle East. They committed America to a forever-presence in Europe. And they gave us decades of constant conflict—everywhere, on nearly every continent—constant intervention around the globe.
Thirty years on, the verdict is in. The New World Order has failed. The pursuit of economic globalism has failed. The pursuit of empire has failed.
It has cost us shocking sums of money, but that is the least of it. It has fueled the rise of our most serious adversary, China. Most Favored Nation status was a colossal mistake. China has built their military on the backs of our middle class. We have helped them do it.
But worse even than that, the politics of New World Order has cost us a way of life, a working class way of life. The economic policy of the last thirty years has hollowed out American industry. Sent millions of jobs overseas. Blue collar jobs that once provided a good living for a family. The loss of good paying work for working people has meant fewer marriages. Falling birth rates. It has disrupted whole towns and communities.
Which brings me to the second part of my story. The growing threat within. The Great Awokening.
The Soviet Union may have lost the Cold War, but Marx lived on—in the English departments at American universities, and in the law schools. In places like these, a new ideology took root over the last fifty and sixty years that trashed American society as fundamentally corrupt and oppressive.
This new ideology cascaded across American academia and twisted it, but it did not stop there. Instead, it spread like a disease. It was no longer just student radicals. It infected our elite class, our media, our biggest businesses.
This virus found a welcome audience in these new places in part because the new Marxists altered Marx to suit their own ends. This wasn’t about fighting economic oppression anymore. It wasn’t about the proletariat. It was about cultural revolution. The new Marxists decided economics wasn’t destiny after all. Culture is. And they aimed to transform American culture.
The new Marxists held a special disgust for Christianity and the nation’s moral character. They call it oppressive and retrograde and racist. They aim their most withering fire at it. The cultural Marxists seek to tear out Biblical influence, to define away gender, to recast American history as systematically evil, to weaken parents, to empower experts, and on and on.
And now—the cultural Marxists have come to power. In the Democratic Party. In the Biden administration. In our schools and universities and government agencies. The new Marxism is the greatest threat to American society in our lifetimes.
But the Republican Party is ill-prepared to meet it. It is ill-positioned. And I would contend to you, in key ways, it has been part of the problem. For decades, Republican policies undermined the very people who are today the most important bulwark against cultural Marxism. I mean the working class, and the working-class way of life.
Ours has been a working-class nation. This country’s culture has been defined by working people.
We hear a lot of talk now about the breakdown in consensus—that consensus, and the moral convictions of the nation, were forged by working people. It was a middle-class consensus. Working class, middle-class institutions have defined American life: family, neighborhood, church, nation. Working class values have centered on those institutions.
And they are exactly the institutions under full-throttle assault by the left: exactly the institutions, preserving exactly the values, that today’s new Marxists define as the obstacles to progress and wish to sweep away.
The problem is, it wasn’t just the new Marxists attacking working people. It was Republicans too. The Republican Party’s embrace of New World Order politics decimated working-class jobs and families. It ravaged working-class culture. After we let China into the WTO, our trade deficit exploded. Over three million jobs vanished. But not on Wall Street. In those working-class communities.
A job means independence. Independence means strength. But Republicans helped to steal that strength from working people. Think of this: For much of our history, corporate bosses had to reckon with American worker power. Why? Because they needed workers. In the factories. On the assembly line. On the farms. Because they were needed, the views of workers had to be respected.
But ruinous trade deals, open immigration policies, and corporate consolidation changed all of that. Cheap foreign labor, in many cases slave labor, replaced Americans. Without the same fear of economic disruption that they once had, today cultural Marxists feel free to bully blue-collar workers into submission.
At the same time, Republicans have come to think of “cultural issues” as somehow detached from blue-collar workers and the working-class life. They are not. The only way to turn back the left’s kulturkampf—their culture war—is to strengthen working people.
The only way to rebuild the middle-class consensus is to rebuild the institutions of middle-class life. If Republicans want to save this nation, they must move immediately to higher ground. We must abandon the ruinous politics of the New World Order. It has been a failure across the board, but an unmitigated catastrophe for blue-collar life.
We must defend—and swiftly—the working people of this nation. Their families. Their neighborhoods. Their schools. Their churches. They are our most important bulwark against the cultural Marxist threat.
If we lose them, and the culture they have created—American culture as we know it—we lose the nation.
The whole of our policy—at home and abroad—must be geared to protecting family, neighborhood, church, nation. Abroad, this means an end to liberal imperialism. It means acting for American interests. It means a robustly nationalist foreign policy that deals with our biggest threat, China, and does less elsewhere across the globe. At home, it means a rigorous focus on bringing back industry, bringing back blue-collar jobs that can support a family, and curbing the power of corporate monopolies.
Let’s strip China of normal trade relations. Let’s require our most critical goods be produced in this country. Let’s balance trade. Let’s strengthen Buy America. Let’s break the backs of Big Tech, Big Pharma, and the biggest and most abusive monopolies. We must restore the economic and cultural power of working people. This is how we will save our culture. This is how we will renew our civil society. This is how we will save this nation.
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Today we sit surrounded, outmaneuvered; at times, it seems outnumbered. But—the heroes are still out there. In the heartland. In our factories. In our churches. Keeping America alive.
The good people of this nation are ready to fight for their way of life. They need our help. Heritage is part of this mission. Central to it. For fifty years, you have been our sentinel at the gates. And I believe you will be our guardian for the next fifty.
Thank you. And God bless.