The Fight of a Century
The ideals of the left today permit no room for self-government, constitutionalism, or federalism.
Remarks delivered at the Heritage Foundation Leadership Summit on April 20, 2023.
Welcome to The Heritage Foundation’s 2023 Leadership Summit. Welcome to this celebration of Heritage’s fiftieth birthday. And welcome, most of all, to the fight that will determine the next fifty years in the history of the conservative movement and the United States of America.
It’s not an oversight that our program this year is split between Maryland and Virginia, avoiding The Swamp itself. There are two very good reasons for this. First of all, Congress is in session this week, and I knew not everyone would remember to pack their swamp boots.
And second: Look, you’ve been following Washington the last two years as much as we have. If Joe Biden’s not all there, we don’t have to be either. Instead, for the next two days, we will lay intellectual and rhetorical siege to the nation’s capital—on behalf of the everyday American whose values, livelihood, and self-governance are assailed daily by the Imperial City.
And not a moment too soon. Hard as it is to believe, there are only: four months until the first presidential debates; nine months until the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary; and, less than nineteen months until the American people have what may be our last, best chance to rescue this nation from a woke, socialist left bent on its destruction.
That’s not an exaggeration—about either the stakes of the fight or the intentions of our opponents. As an academic, and as a Christian, I’m not interested in personal or partisan attacks. This fight is a battle of foundational ideals. But the ideals of the left today permit no room for self-government, constitutionalism, or federalism.
There is not a single principle articulated in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution that the left today still supports. The right to Life? Liberty? The pursuit of happiness? Consent of the governed—as determined by fair elections? Separation of powers? Federalism? The First Amendment? Second? Fourth? Tenth?
If anything, this only scratches the surface of the left’s ambitions. They have abandoned the rule of law, as we see from the FBI to the White House, and to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
They reject the very idea of national sovereignty—insisting the United States belongs to globalist elites instead of the everyday, hardworking American citizen. It’s no wonder that post Covid, nine of the top ten wealthiest congressional districts are now represented by Democrats, while Republicans represent 64 percent of congressional districts with median incomes in the bottom half. Republicans are now the party of the religious, working-class.
Playing to their now wealthy, costal elite constituents, the left denies all evidence—no matter how scientifically irrefutable—that contradicts their ideology. They oppose even the natural authority of parents to raise their children. But I suppose that shouldn’t surprise us, as these are the same zealots who demanded we “trust the science” on Covid origins, non-vaccine vaccines, and useless masks, while rejecting—belligerently and often violently—the most obvious of scientific truths: biological manhood and womanhood.
Up against this movement—this multi-trillion-dollar conspiracy of political, corporate, and cultural elites—we are not competing for partisan gain, but national survival.
In this present crisis, as Ronald Reagan said in his 1964 “Time For Choosing” speech:
there is no such thing as a left or right. There's only an up or down - [up to] man's old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.
Five years ago, I would not have put this point in such stark terms. But the Covid pandemic showed me—showed all of us—just what time it really is in our beloved country.
We must never forget what happened. For the first time, the Covid crisis finally gave government elites the power to direct our lives in the way they always wanted to. What did they do? They lied. They censored. They shut down churches, small businesses, and schools. They separated us from our dying parents and grandparents. They conspired with Big Tech and genocidal communists in Beijing to cover up their mistakes and abuses and manipulated election laws for their own ends.
After that tainted campaign, once back in power, the left abused the “crisis” to declare war on energy, border security, election integrity, parents, unborn children, the free exercise of religion, and even Americans’ retirement savings. At every turn, the media cheered their tyranny, and maligned anyone who questioned it. And most of the time, the Republican establishment in Washington did nothing.
We can no longer indulge any illusions about what the woke, Marxist left is about, the consequences of losing, or the odds stacked against us. Why then, you might ask, do I seem so upbeat? Because today the conservative movement is answering this challenge, and rising to this moment with the courage and vigor it demands.
You are going to hear a lot over the next two days about Project 2025 and the agenda it is developing, Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise. When we launched this project a year ago, Washington insiders said grassroots conservatives were hopelessly fractured. But as we gathered scholars, activists, and leaders to start building a new plan for the next great conservative presidency, an urgent consensus quickly formed.
The old intramural debates about tax cuts, health care, minimum wage, national debt, and other issues remain important. But right now, they must take a back seat to the twin existential threats our nation faces.
This Friday, The Heritage Foundation will publish a nearly 900-page updated Mandate for Leadership. With over 400 contributors and over fifty partner organizations from across the conservative movement, this new policy bible lays out a comprehensive agenda to confront and solve those two challenges: one, by dismantling the woke-and-weaponized Administrative State at home, and two, by defeating the Chinese Communist Party abroad.
I can tell you, from the experience of this work this past year, and talking with our members and partners and policymakers: the New Conservative Movement America needs is already here. The era of waiting for a leader or a party—someone, somewhere—to fix America’s problems for us is over. Every speaker you hear from this week, and I think everyone in the audience, too, understands: This is our country. This is our moment. This is our fight to win.
No more secret deals. No more half-a-loaf. No more, “My good friend, the distinguished gentleman…” No more bringing butter knives to gunfights. The woke Left doesn’t merely have a different vision for America—their vision is to destroy everything that makes America America: our values, our history, our rights, our sovereignty, our faith, and our patriotism.
This new iteration of the left—tyrannical, elitist, anti-American, anti-Constitution—cannot be bargained with or placated. It must be defeated. And not just in 2023 and 2024, but every year. Not just in Washington, D.C., but everywhere.
It’s a big task—one that will require an even bigger coalition. Decades of frustration and failure have shown us that the old Washington “Red Team” of free marketers, neo-conservatives, and evangelicals alone is not enough. The victory America needs cannot be achieved by 50-percent-plus-one-majorities, let alone by relying on electoral college and procedural gimmicks in Congress. We have learned the hard way that it is not enough for conservatives to hold power—we have to wield it. Not for ourselves, but for the country and its future. For the everyday American.
For a generation, Washington leaders promised us that globalization, financialization, and serving as the world’s police force would yield America more freedom, opportunity, and strength. For a few zip codes—especially their own—it worked. But most of our country was left behind in this “Great Leap Forward.”
It’s time to put Washington back to work for the American people instead of the other way around. The New Conservative Movement we are building is as broad-shouldered, big-hearted, and hard-working as the middle- and working-class families it must—must—represent. The Conservative Promise must be more than free markets and free trade, cheap credit, cheap imports, or cheap foreign labor.
It’s about full lives and full pews; flourishing communities, growing families, and prosperous family-owned businesses. It’s about kids safe from criminals, opioids, Big-Tech, and teachers’ unions. It’s about jobs where things are made and not just securitized. It’s about a new vision of government—self-government, accountable and limited—that invests in people instead of bureaucracies.
And it’s already started. Across the country, governors, state legislators, newly elected school boards and county commissions are taking up the fight. And winning. More conservative legislation is being passed today than at any time in a generation—including by many of the men and women we will hear from soon.
School choice. The right to life. Law and order. Border Security. The protection of girls, women, and families. Ending Pornography. Putting Big Tech back in its box. Good paying jobs and growing business that don’t kneel to the woke mob or the CCP. The left started this new culture war. We will finish it.
The Heritage Foundation will continue to play our pivotal role in this work. We have marshaled activists and legislators to help shape policy and strategy. Through our million-dollar Innovation Prize, we are investing in new ideas and institutions that will reinvigorate federalism and policy leadership in the states.
The New Conservative movement will not only be willing to use the power they have, but it stands ready to get that power out of Washington, D.C., and back to the people to whom this nation truly belongs. That work begins right here, right now. The last fifty years have led to this urgent, crowded season of peril and opportunity, when together we must set a course for the next fifty years, for our cause and our country.
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Doing so often feels like a burden; this is what all of you, and scores of Americans in every state, tell me. I understand. And yet, we, the burden bearers, can take solace and encouragement from the Psalmist, who reminds us, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.”
On behalf of everyone at the Heritage Foundation, welcome to the New Conservative Movement. Welcome to the fight. Thank you again for being here, as we embolden each other to charge hill after hill, in Washington, in every state capital, and in every county seat, in the name of common-sense and self-governance.
Like you, we will never give up, we will never give in, and we will never rest until we have reclaimed this great land.