Future Right Summit

An unconventional summit on the future of the Right.

July 17, 2015, 1:01 a.m.

On a Fri­day in late June in the Texas Hill Coun­try, about an hour out­side Aus­tin, some 30 shoe­less, mostly liber­tari­an, mostly mod­er­ate, mostly Re­pub­lic­an guests gathered at the 720-acre, East­ern-in­spired ranch of Whole Foods cofounder and co-CEO John Mackey, for a con­fer­ence on the fu­ture of the GOP. It was 9:30 a.m., and an­oth­er of their hosts, Rich Tafel, founder of the gay con­ser­vat­ive group Log Cab­in Re­pub­lic­ans, had just giv­en the in­tro­duc­tion to the first full day of the event, which would run un­til Sunday mid­day. Dur­ing a break, at­tendees checked their phones and en­countered some ver­sion of this head­line: “5-4 Rul­ing Makes Same-Sex Mar­riage a Right Na­tion­wide.” “Here we were in this group, try­ing to ima­gine the fu­ture Right,” busi­ness­man Ted Buer­ger tells me later, “and a door­way opened in the middle of those meet­ings and said, ‘What you are try­ing to cre­ate is what is go­ing to be cre­ated.’ “

The con­fer­ence, of­fi­cially called the Con­clave on the Fu­ture of the Right, was sponsored by the In­sti­tute for Cul­tur­al Evol­u­tion, which, since 2013, has been fo­cused on “de­pol­ar­iz­ing” Amer­ic­an polit­ics. Mackey and Tafel, both seni­or fel­lows there, is­sued in­vit­a­tions to Re­pub­lic­an and Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing in­de­pend­ent “thought lead­ers” — in­clud­ing former Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee head Mi­chael Steele, Rep. Car­los Cur­belo of Flor­ida , and book pub­lish­er and Charles Koch scion Eliza­beth Koch — who they be­lieved would be re­cept­ive to their vis­ion of a GOP that fo­cuses less on di­vis­ive so­cial is­sues. After dec­ades of sub­or­din­a­tion to a Re­pub­lic­an “base” com­posed of so­cial con­ser­vat­ives, it seems, liber­tari­ans and oth­ers who have felt ali­en­ated from the party see an op­por­tun­ity to seize the reins. The aim of this meet­ing was to en­gage some of them in a con­ver­sa­tion about what their dream party might look like.

Rather than an at­tempt to talk strategy or tac­tics (“This is not about Re­pub­lic­ans learn­ing to speak Span­ish,” Tafel joked), the con­fer­ence was meant to be a sum­mit of ideas, a first step to­ward achiev­ing a con­sensus of the like-minded. The week­end was broken down in­to 11 ses­sions, each with a broad theme such as “So­cial/Value Is­sues,” or “The Role of the Me­dia in the Fu­ture of the Right.” (For those in­ter­ested, the agenda also in­cluded hik­ing and a dip in a swim­ming hole on the grounds.) Brief “con­ver­sa­tion starters” led to fa­cil­it­ated dis­cus­sions of 30 minutes to two hours, in a set­ting that it­self was a stretch for some of those present. “It was rus­tic — more Wild West or rugged West,” but with “pic­tures of yo­gis and East­ern mys­tics,” says Nick Gillespie, ed­it­or of liber­tari­an touch­stone Reas­on.com. The group dined on ve­gan dishes that in­cluded a “chocol­ate pud­ding” made of avo­cado and dates, which, for those who didn’t nor­mally ad­here to the diet “kind of en­cap­su­lated part of what we were try­ing to do, which was to try and do things, or see things, dif­fer­ently,” Gillespie says.

“We’ve got to leave the hate be­hind,” one at­tendee says.

To be sure, even among a group preselec­ted for its open-minded­ness and shared val­ues, ten­sions arose. At the start of one ses­sion, Dav­id Blanken­horn, the founder and pres­id­ent of the In­sti­tute for Amer­ic­an Val­ues, made the case for mar­riage and the two-par­ent fam­ily struc­ture — wheth­er the couple is straight, gay, or oth­er­wise. Some of the more em­phat­ic liber­tari­ans erup­ted at the mere in­tro­duc­tion of the top­ic. (At one point after the gay-mar­riage de­cision came down, some par­ti­cipants began to de­bate why mar­riage laws were needed at all, but that con­ver­sa­tion was quickly quashed.) “There are people who are very much in fa­vor of life­style ex­per­i­ment­a­tion” and who wouldn’t want a party that simply “up­held tra­di­tion­al val­ues,” says Mi­chael Strong, a liber­tari­an and cofounder of the non­profit Rad­ic­al So­cial En­tre­pren­eurs.

The ten­sion between or­der and liberty — and the ques­tion of how to main­tain the un­easy al­li­ance between so­cial con­ser­vat­ives and liber­tari­ans — is hardly new. But the ten­or of the con­ver­sa­tions sug­ges­ted that the at­tendees saw a fu­ture in which they and their val­ues formed the GOP’s base, and so­cial is­sues and their cham­pi­ons were no longer cen­ter stage. Their re­thought, re­newed party would be in­clus­ive and pro­act­ive, and would stand for per­son­al free­dom, smal­ler gov­ern­ment, and en­tre­pren­eur­i­al cap­it­al­ism.

That wouldn’t mean abandon­ing so­cial con­ser­vat­ives, strategist Patrick Ruffini and oth­ers are quick to note. “I came at this through the polit­ic­al arena,” Ruffini says. “I don’t be­lieve that mar­gin­al­iz­ing so­cial con­ser­vat­ives with­in the Re­pub­lic­an Party is ne­ces­sar­ily a good strategy for mov­ing for­ward. There still does need to be a co­ali­tion between all sides, and there needs to be mu­tu­al un­der­stand­ing and re­spect.” The ques­tion, says Tafel, is “how can we bring people for­ward with their val­ues? Be­cause a lot of those val­ues are quite beau­ti­ful. Their faith, their fam­ily. They don’t need to aban­don them,” he says. But “that fear-based stuff that has of­ten been stuck with the tra­di­tion­al cul­ture” — that has to go. Or, as Ab­n­er Ma­son, the CEO of Con­se­joSano, an on­line health care com­pany for Span­ish speak­ers, put it, “We’ve got to leave the hate be­hind.”

So how to form an al­li­ance with those they hope to sup­plant? One sug­ges­ted out­reach strategy was to step for­ward to de­fend so­cial con­ser­vat­ives against the kind of cul­tur­al back­lash many at­tendees pre­dicted was nigh. “Now that so­cial lib­er­als have won on gay mar­riage, there’s the pos­sib­il­ity that they’ll want to really force re­li­gious com­munit­ies to ad­here to a whole range of so­cially lib­er­al po­s­i­tions,” for in­stance by at­tempt­ing to re­voke tax-ex­empt status for churches, says Strong. However, it is hard to know how far such a ges­ture would go with con­ser­vat­ives, Blanken­horn notes wryly, be­cause there were none at the con­fer­ence. “It’s not good to en­gage with someone in ab­sen­tia,” he says. “Es­pe­cially if you’re go­ing to try and ex­ecute them.”

On Sunday, every­one had a chance to of­fer one or two words sum­ming up his or her ex­per­i­ence; com­mon choices, ac­cord­ing to the 12 par­ti­cipants I in­ter­viewed, were “re­freshed,” “re­newed,” and “op­tim­ist­ic.” Tafel says he will write a sum­mary of the con­ver­sa­tions, which he’ll send to par­ti­cipants to edit. If enough people are com­fort­able with the idea, he’ll pub­lish it as a signed mani­festo. The re­cep­tion that doc­u­ment gets could dic­tate what hap­pens next. But he’s con­fid­ent that they’re on the right track, and that something will hap­pen. Just like the idea of gay mar­riage 20 years ago, the concept of the fu­ture Right “sounds so far-fetched,” Tafel says. “But I have no doubt that what we’re do­ing is go­ing to ac­tu­ally trans­form it. You have to have ideas first. And you have to stand alone first for a while.”

What We're Following See More »
PELOSI PROMISES EMPHASIS ON VOTING RIGHTS
Fudge Backs Pelosi for Speaker
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Rep. Marcia Fudge announced she would support Nancy Pelosi for speaker, just days after saying she might challenge the California Democrat. ... Fudge said Pelosi had promised her an opportunity to work to protect voting rights and assured her that “'the most loyal voting bloc in the Democratic party, Black women, will have a seat at the decision-making table.'” Fudge's move makes it unclear who might challenge Pelosi, even given the opposition to her among some in the Democratic caucus.

Source:
"RUSSIA-RELATED" TOPICS
Trump Submits Answers to Mueller Questions
3 hours ago
THE LATEST
The president "has submitted his written answers to questions related to the Russia investigation to special counsel Robert Mueller, the president's legal team announced Tuesday." His attorney Jay Sekolow, said in a statement that Trump "answered written questions submitted by The Special Counsel's office. The questions presented dealt with issues regarding the Russia-related topics of the inquiry. The president responded in writing."
Source:
MCGAHN BALKED
Trump Sought DOJ Charges Against Clinton, Comey
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump told the White House counsel in the spring that he wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute two of his political adversaries: his 2016 challenger, Hillary Clinton, and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to two people familiar with the conversation. The lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, rebuffed the president, saying that he had no authority to order a prosecution."

Source:
FOUNDATION FOR ACCOUNTABILITY AND CIVIC TRUST
Whittaker's Disclosures Show $1.4 Million from Conservative Activist Group
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

The Justice Department today released Matthew Whitaker's required disclosure forms. Among the juiciest bits: "From October 2014 until September 2017, when he joined the Justice Department, Whitaker worked as the executive director of Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a right-leaning nonprofit that called during his tenure for investigations into Democrats including U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Joaquin Castro. Whitaker’s reports showed he earned $904,000 (reported when he joined Main Justice) and $502,000 (reported this year) in income from the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust."

Source:
"THE WORLD IS A DANGEROUS PLACE"
Trump Defends Saudi Arabia After Khashoggi Killing
7 hours ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login