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Conservatives Must Resurrect Tea Party Principles For The 2024 Election Cycle

If conservatives can reject political trends of the past eight years and return to Tea Party principles, we may just save our republic.


I was recently having a conversation with two friends about our shared dread over the upcoming election cycle. In the midst of this conversation, I came back to a familiar epiphany that has sustained me through the ugliness of getting involved in politics. If we conservatives can reject several major political trends of the past eight years and return to Tea Party principles, we may just win more policy battles and elections, and possibly save our republic.

The conversation went like this. One person made the statement that she thought Donald Trump was the best president in a very long time, maybe her lifetime. The other replied, “Trump was very good. But the results since 2016 suggest America has soured on him. So if he loses the general, what does it matter how good he’d have been if he’d have won? Going back to the Tea Party, the GOP has often acted like they’d rather lose with their first choice than win with their second choice.”

I understand the frustration of losing winnable races but take issue with the instinct to blame the Tea Party. Perhaps I’m sensitive, having been at the forefront of Tea Party organizing and strategizing in Oregon since its emergence.

The 2010 Tea Party wave gave us Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, a historic midterm wave in the House, seven Senate seats, and about 1,000 state legislative seats. Republican leadership then took that momentum and scuttled the ship rather than training its artillery on the enemy.

But I get it. Engaged voters in America watch the news, hold dear to their principles, listen to the candidates, and make the most informed voting decisions they can while juggling family, work, and life. They take their responsibilities seriously, and they get frustrated with losing.

The Right’s Complacency

As an activist, I have a different perspective. I am one of hundreds of thousands of people nationwide who took that Tea Party momentum and tried to make conservatism more effective and efficient to elect good people to public office. Our real problem in conservative politics is that we don’t engage in the important fights as the institutional left does. The left has an enormous advantage in their fundraising and organizing machines that bring the fight to us starting the day after Election Day, all the way through to the next Election Day. They never stop, whereas Conservative Inc. gets complacent and refuses to engage.

The right has failed for decades to properly deploy its resources. The Tea Party proposed to do just that. It got shot down by the Karl Roves and Paul Ryans of the world.

Having moved to Florida a couple of years ago, I even see it here. Gov. Ron DeSantis won reelection by 20 points in 2022, creating coattails every other statewide Republican candidate rode to double-digit wins as well, and producing supermajorities for the GOP in both houses of the state legislature. So when I joined my county Republican Executive Committee, I was surprised to see folks happy with the status quo, despite the promise by the left to infiltrate small towns across America to suppress the vote of good, decent people.

Fights That Matter

So, what does this walk down Tea Party memory lane have to do with the election cycle in 2024? Almost everything, I propose. Conservative media put so much emphasis on national-level elections while giving almost no thought to our local races. We hang on every national presidential poll or generic congressional poll, despite them having little to no bearing on the outcome. The corporate media gleefully overemphasize this while undervaluing the elections closest to the voters.

The Tea Party injected needed energy and new blood into local elections. In Oregon in 2010, we handed the Republicans a 30-30 tie in the state House and a razor-thin 14-16 minority in the Senate. We came within 40,000 questionable votes in Portland of electing the first Republican governor since 1982. The nationwide results, in elections where Republicans actually had a chance, were significantly larger.

A longtime political operative in Oregon — one of the few successful conservative consultants that existed — taught me another important lesson. He had no love for the establishment or lobby class, and he had a knack for creating effective radio commercials for his candidates. He told me many times that voters need to be educated every election cycle. If we fail to frame the proper issues and offer the proper solutions, we lose every single time. GOP candidates in Oregon, by and large, are far too timid and refuse to engage in the fights that truly matter to the voters. Then, they refuse to use their platform as candidates to send strategic messages about those issues, afraid of offending someone. This has always struck me as a microcosm of why we lose on the national level.

Conservative, Not Republican

One final lesson comes from William F. Buckley, in the days of the Goldwater campaign. In 2013, Neal B. Freeman, the former editor of National Review, wrote a definitive guide, “Buckley Rule, According to Bill, Not Karl.” In many ways, the Buckley Rule was Tea Party decades before the Tea Party existed.

Freeman wrote, “We all understand that it is Karl Rove’s mission to promote the Republican party. It was the mission of Bill Buckley to promote the conservative cause. There should be no confusion between the two.”

The rule does not mean to find the most electable Republican candidate, as establishment moderates often claim. The rule means to promote the rightward-most viable candidate. Buckley himself ran as a third-party candidate for New York mayor in 1965, against what Freeman called a highly electable moderate Republican. Primary elections should not focus on how candidates will perform in the general election, but rather how eloquently and forcefully they can use their platform to advance conservative solutions.

In 2016, Trump taught us some lessons in the effective use of the media. Instead of living in fear and trying to finesse a message palatable to corporate media, he gave voice to frustrated voters by mocking the entire media ecosystem. It got him elected. His greatest asset was his utter lack of fear in calling out media malpractice.

The lessons for voters and candidates alike are pretty straightforward: 1) Don’t get distracted by polls. 2) Find viable candidates who can articulate bold conservative solutions. 3) Candidates must learn to use the broken media ecosystem against itself. 4) Donors must put resources into a year-round effort to register and educate voters, instead of engaging in pointless advertising wars too late in the election cycle to make a difference. 5) Winning in the court of public opinion starts with rejecting the left’s false premises, and framing messages in basic sense and truth. 6) Never even give the appearance of compromising on bedrock conservative principles.

If we can resurrect these proven strategies on a scalable level in races across America while convincing the donor class to deploy resources properly, we can create the wave we hoped would materialize in 2022 but didn’t. If we stay mired in the polls and the pointless squawking on cable news, we’ll never even engage the left in the fights we need to win to get our people elected.

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