During the Parisian leg of his post-presidential European tour, Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” in which he noted, “Credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again, and again … but who does actually strive to do the deeds.” This would go on to become one of his most famous speeches, inspiring generations of American statesmen and those hoping to emulate them.
This past week, the Bull Moose Project, a recently formed political organization, held its first-ever candidate leadership summit. Aspiring officeholders from around the country assembled to receive training on how to run their campaigns. The 50-or-so summit attendees were enthusiastic and notably young, predominantly in their early 20s, with many already in the throes of running for office. The organization, according to its website, is dedicated to training, supporting, and electing the next generation of American statesmen while further building out the burgeoning conservative populist movement. And if it wasn’t already apparent from its name, the group draws considerable inspiration from the 26th president.
Summit attendees heard from early torchbearers of the New Right in the form of current officeholders, like West Virginia Delegate Riley Keaton and Missouri State Rep. Chris Lonsdale, as well as former candidates, such as Stefano Forte of New York and Florida’s Anthony Sabatini — all of whom first ran for office in their 20s and are currently younger than 40.
Battle-tested policy experts like Mark Krikorian, the executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies; Mike Howell, the Heritage Foundation’s oversight project director; and Jeff Clark, the director of litigation at the Center for Renewing America; as well as younger think-tankers such as Thomas Hochman, a budding energy wonk; and Jake Denton a tech policy researcher at Heritage fleshed out potential policy prescriptions for the conservative populist movement. The general consensus was that an immediate course reversal with a drastic emphasis on domestic production of essentially everything, a surprisingly possible goal, is paramount not just to conservative political success but to American national survival.
But so what? An ideologically oriented organization attempting to embolden similarly inclined allies isn’t exactly new.
The reality of the situation is that the Bull Moose Project plays a unique role in the world of conservative politics. Being a young organization run by younger adults, the organization punches significantly above its weight, and the largely unoccupied space Bull Moose fills on the still-developing New Right — candidate recruitment and retention — is one that must be stepped into if the ideology is to have any hope of longevity.
Developing a farm system of candidates, so to speak, is necessary for every political movement. No one sets the ship’s course by hosting podcasts and writing white papers; people have to get elected to implement the vision. And by developing a network of like-minded individuals who eagerly await the opportunity to step into the ring, there are more chances conservative populism remains electorally viable. At the least, it retains more messengers who want to hold office.
When speaking with The Federalist, Aiden Buzzetti, the organization’s president, highlighted the importance of investing in the leadership of future generations.
He said, “The [leadership summit] brought current and future candidates together from 17 states and featured campaign and policy experts to help us achieve our goal of developing future statesmen for the conservative movement. We want to provide them with the knowledge and resources necessary to run for office and win, so they can enact legislative change that will ensure a brighter future for future generations.”
But beyond this, the Bull Moose Project has found itself wrapped up in the ongoing realignment of the Republican Party. The organization’s ability to develop a sizable following of ideologically aligned and enthusiastic activists while garnering support from some of the most influential institutions in conservative politics — like the Heritage Foundation, who sponsored the event — indicates that the organization’s “America First” approach to domestic issues is in sync with both the grassroots and the larger political framework of conservative politics. The Bull Moose Project has presented itself as yet another foil to the rapidly eroding neoconservatism of the old guard.
Opposition to this cultural and economic populism appears to be among the main criticisms of the organization. But even so, it remains unclear whether objections to the organization are inspired by revulsion to populist aesthetics or because of genuine ideological disagreement.
It is clear, however, that Bull Moose’s supporters are unfazed by the pushback from the organization’s detractors. And why ought they be? The intellectual and activist wings of the conservative movement have enthusiastically and repeatedly endorsed the New Right’s philosophical framework as the most viable option for staving off leftist insanity and as a means for the preservation of ordered liberty.
Speaking with The Federalist, Ziven Havens, the group’s policy director, said, “People attempt to mischaracterize the stances and goals of the Bull Moose Project, but our intentions are clear. We are working to equip candidates with the practical skills and policy knowledge needed to become effective leaders in their communities.”
Conventional wisdom tells us most candidates don’t succeed the first time they run for office, and factoring in the majority of the summit attendees’ youth, probable lack of political capital, and incumbent opponents, each one will likely be facing a series of uphill battles. A crucial part of running for office is being prepared for the possibility of very publicly having egg on your face. But, as Roosevelt said in Paris, if a man is to fail, “[he] at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Bull Moose’s leadership summit might yield great results; we’ll have to wait until the ballots are in to find out. But what can’t be denied is that the people behind the Bull Moose Project walked directly into the arena and have yet to look for the exit.