Why I Co-Signed the Freedom Conservatism Manifesto

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Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
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Seven years ago, a group of respectable conservatives wrote eloquent essays about why the rise in demagoguery, authoritarianism, nationalism, and hedonism on the right (in other words, Trumpism) was not the way forward.

I’m referring, of course, to National Review’s (in)famous “Against Trump” edition (there’s a reason why it was Ronald Reagan’s favorite magazine). Along with an editorial castigating The Donald, the edition also featured a symposium of more than 20 elite conservatives criticizing Donald Trump. A look back at what they had to say is both stunning and (let’s be honest) laughable.

“If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, there will once again be no opposition to an ever-expanding government,” warned Glenn Beck. “Conservatives should reject Trump’s hollow, Euro-style identity politics,” declared Ben Domenech, then-publisher of The Federalist.

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“Trump has made a living out of preying on and bullying society’s most vulnerable, with the help of government,” declared Townhall.com’s Katie Pavlich.

And—conceding that Trump was currently winning—Dana Loesch, who then worked at The Blaze, asked: “Popularity over principle—is this the new Right?”

Yes, Dana. It is. Although Trumpism isn’t always all that popular outside of the GOP.

You have probably already guessed that many of those prominent conservative writers subsequently either did a complete 180 on Trump or became so anti-anti-Trump that it was a distinction without a difference.

Fast forward to this week, when I was honored to join a group of 82 other Freedom Conservatives who signed a statement of principles. This statement is consistent with what most of those pre-Trump conservatives at least claimed to believe. (Note: Several current and former National Review employees also signed the Freedom Conservatism statement.)

I can’t go into every principle in detail, but they include some things you might expect—such as the assertion that “Liberty is indivisible, and political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom,” and that “The free enterprise system is the foundation of prosperity.”

But these principles also take nuanced positions on topics like immigration. For example, we believe that “Immigration is a principal driver of American prosperity and achievement,” but we also recognize that a “sovereign nation, has the right to secure its borders and design a rational immigration policy—built on the rule of law—that advances the interests and values of American citizens.”

And the statement declares that “We adamantly oppose racial discrimination in all its forms, either against or for any person or group of people.”

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My interpretation of this sentence (and my opinion is my own) is that we oppose discrimination against minority groups, and we likewise oppose using racial preferences for things like college admissions.

This is to say that we are neither right-wing nationalists or left-wing progressives. We are conservatives, at least in the sense that this term was understood in 2016.

The difference is that we signed our names to this statement after knowing how things would shake out on the right, after realizing that Donald Trump would come to define and dominate the party and (largely) the movement, and after realizing that breaking from the right would have consequences that would affect our lives and careers.

Most prominent conservatives eventually saw the writing on the wall and got with the MAGA program. Others drifted leftward.

The remaining number of Freedom Conservatives has definitely dwindled.

Why bother doing any of this? I mean, it’s obvious that Donald Trump is poised to win the Republican nomination. And even if he doesn’t, Ron DeSantis has made it clear that (and I’m being charitable here) he doesn’t embrace the full scope of our group’s ideas and values.

I don’t speak for any of the other signatories, but I don’t harbor any delusions that signing some statement of principles will change the world—certainly not today.

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To borrow a page from the name of Jonah Goldberg’s podcast (Jonah is among the Freedom Conservatives’ signatories), let’s call this group the remnant. This is a biblical term, which can be defined as “What is left of a community after it undergoes a catastrophe.” (In this instance, Trump’s election qualifies as a catastrophe.)

The Freedom Conservatives who signed this statement are something of a remnant. And the mere existence of this document proves that all hope is not lost. So long as a remnant endures, its ideas and values have a chance at a comeback.

To the small group of Freedom Conservatives who still care about conserving liberal democracy: we now know who we can trust and who’s a true believer.

I hope we will still be around when our country needs us.

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