When Republican Glenn Youngkin secured an upset victory against Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s gubernatorial race last week, the House GOP credited the win to Americans rejecting socialism.
Many conservatives disagreed.
Angry replies to the tweet revealed a stark divide between more conventional conservatives and National Conservatives, who are less concerned with how big the government is than what the government is being used to do. The latter pointed to the Youngkin campaign as proof their movement is the future of the Republican Party: As a candidate, Youngkin had rarely, if ever, mentioned socialism, focusing instead on the rising cost of living and the state’s public school curriculum, vowing to use his term to purge the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT). (RELATED: Youngkin Beats McAuliffe, Clinching First Statewide Win In Virginia For Republicans Since 2009)
“A lot of the election in Virginia was a bunch of parents going to their school board and telling these radicals who are running the schools to cut the crap,” Conservative commentator Michael Knowles told the Daily Caller in an interview. “The election I think came down to that one line from Terry McAuliffe, who said ‘I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.’ The question was, who gets to raise our kids?”
Youngkin’s own campaign strategists agree, writing Monday in The Washington Post that McAuliffe’s now-infamous statement on education was “the gift gaffe of the cycle.”
Christopher Rufo, a National Conservative and the investigative journalist largely responsible for bringing attention to CRT curriculums in schools across the country, said the election was proof that Republicans can win on cultural issues, not only on bashing socialism. (RELATED: Republicans Are Turning Up The Heat With Anti-Critical Race Theory Bills And The Reaction Is Hitting A Boiling Point)
“The lesson from last night is that conservatives must courageously lean into the culture war,” Rufo tweeted the day after Youngkin’s win. “We must protect American families against a hostile, nihilistic elite that seeks to use our public institutions as their private ideological weapons. We must stand tall and say ‘No!'”
Both Rufo and Knowles spoke at the National Conservatism Conference (NCC) in Orlando, Florida, last week, which ended on the same day of Youngkin’s win. There, the movement’s leaders laid out both their intellectual foundation and their real-world policy goals. The message was clear: The fusionist mindset that had animated the Republican Party in recent decades is dead and buried.
While National Conservatism often manifests in political campaigns as an emphasis on social issues, such as Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s push against pornography, that is a reduction that misunderstands the movement, according to Knowles.
Yoram Hazony, the chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation and so-called (by Knowles) “Grand Poobah” of National Conservatism, agreed.
“If you can only think of politics as divided between foreign policy, economics and social issues — if you have to look at it that way, then I’m not surprised that’s what you end up saying,” Hazony said. “But I think that’s just a fundamental misframing, because the issue really is rethinking the 1960’s fusion between public liberalism and private conservatism.”
Hazony says the movement is primarily a rejection of the coalition of conservatives and liberals that William F. Buckley created to overthrow communism abroad and defeat socialism at home. This alliance was a poison pill, National Conservatives say, in that conservative beliefs took a back seat to the classical liberal emphasis on individual liberty.
“The shape of the alliance was that you should be liberal in the public space and uphold individual liberties, but encourage private conservatism,” Hazony told the Caller. “Conservative beliefs were privatized, first getting shipped down to the state level, then the school level, and ultimately down to the individual’s private belief.”
Hazony says the elevation of individual liberty above all else has led to pushback because it doesn’t allow for the discussion of any kind of common good other than maximizing personal liberty. The rejection of CRT in schools is one example of how ideologies based on individual freedom can conflict with the national interest or general welfare, he says.
“The question is: Is there such a thing as a national interest that needs to be expressed, including through government activism and the restriction of local freedoms?” Hazony asked. “Should states and the government be actively trying to prevent a neo-Marxist ideology from being taught in the schools and inculcated in private businesses and in the army?” (RELATED: Amid The Pentagon’s CRT Campaign, Lloyd Austin Says ‘It’s Really Important’ The Military Is ‘Apolitical’)
“That whole set of questions is reframed when you stop thinking about conservatism as, you know, ‘the private individual should do whatever he or she wants.’ Look, we all believe in individual liberties and we cherish them and it’s part of our tradition, but there is also such a thing as a national interest,” he added.
The national interest can trump individual liberty when “what you’re facing is a movement that seeks to overthrow the most basic assumptions about American history and the way it’s taught, and the role that parents have in the traditional family, and the role the traditional family has in constructing the larger nation — when you’re seeing something that, obviously, its goal is to destroy God and scripture, nation and family, man and woman, and honor and sanctity.”
Numerous high-profile Republicans have joined the National Conservative movement in abandoning the “dead consensus” in recent years. Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, poster boys of establishment conservatism less than a decade ago, both spoke at the NCC last week. Also joining them were Hawley and J.D. Vance, a Republican running a 2022 Senate campaign in Ohio.
Vance is running in a crowded Republican field, and the fate of his explicitly National Conservative campaign is likely to be the next major test for the movement.