Conservatives and Libertarians should begin to prepare themselves to be marginalized at the federal government level. This may sound like a strange remark with a Republican in the White House and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress…but let’s take a breath and think this through.
I think everyone can agree that Donald Trump is not a conservative or libertarian by any commonly recognizable definition of those words. And, Donald Trump destroyed every conservative and libertarian that represented us in the Republican primary, not merely because they were in his way, but because of their beliefs.
In Congress, conservatives and libertarians remain minorities and Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell still have nothing but disrespect for what they consider to be their right flank. With no significant leadership roles to play in the executive or legislative branches of government, our only hope is that Trump nominates a conservative, constitutionalist, or libertarian to the Supreme Court. But even this is unlikely.
We haven’t failed to gain power through a lack of effort. We’ve simply butted up against realities beyond our control: a populace that doesn’t care about the Constitution if the Constitution doesn’t improve their bottom line; a populace growing more socially liberal by the minute; a populace that conflates corporatism and capitalism, and which—unable to tell the difference—rejects the latter and tolerates the former.
Many Americans are speaking about the common characteristics between Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan. This might actually be a decent comparison, because for all of Ronald Reagan’s conservative rhetoric, very little of that populist conservatism ever made it into actual policy. There was a great deal of bipartisan cooperation and deal making, there was amnesty, and there were scandals. At the end of the day the country was far better off under Reagan than it would have been under four more years of Jimmy Carter. The Christian Majority got Reagan elected and gained little in the way of tangible victories for their many causes.
What did we get, though? What Reagan gave us was equally as important as “conservatism” as such; he changed the American culture. He ended the malaise. He rebuilt the United States military and won the Cold War. He secured many executive victories around the margins and unleashed the American economy. American life improved, and it improved without many conservative or libertarian victories. The government continued to grow. Debt and deficits remained a problem. Cans were kicked down the road. Abortions increased. Illegal immigrants continued to pour across the border.
Neither Rand Paul nor Ted Cruz were the next Ronald Reagan. They would have been better than Reagan. Trump really might be the next Reagan and the future Trump administration is just as likely to disappoint conservative, constitutionalist, and libertarian activists as the Reagan administration. However, if the country is improving under Trump, all the fist shaking and Facebook memes in the world will have even less of an effect than they did during the Bush and Obama administrations.
I’m 37 years old. In my lifetime there has never been a better time to turn 99% of our attention toward state and local government. Let us recognize that as long as Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell are controlling the agenda in Washington D.C., that conservatives simply do not have a seat at the table. We are too few. Our representatives are too few. Let us exercise our voices, influence, and activism where they will have the most impact—right here in the Commonwealth, in our cities, counties, and towns.
I recognize that for many of you, who have been so focused on the federal government for so long, that this will be a difficult transition. After all, FOX News, CNN, and MSNBC couldn’t care less about local or statewide issues, so you won’t hear about them on the news. Most of the social media chatter will be centered around Trump’s Tweets, Congressional battles, and Supreme Court cases. There just won’t be many positive stories to react to, but why should we always be reacting? Let us be proactive. Let us flex our muscles where and when we can.
For conservatives, constitutionalists, and libertarians, let 2017 and 2018 be all about our State and Local governments. Let’s get back to activism from the ground up. If you don’t know your school board and board of supervisors personally, if you aren’t talking to them on a regular basis, then we have a problem. If you can’t get your delegate or their legislative aide on the phone, then we have a problem. If your State Senator doesn’t know who you are, then we have a problem.
Let’s focus on local issues for a few years and see what happens. In the meantime, let’s set rational expectations regarding “our agenda” in Washington D.C.