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GOP Should Embrace Being the 'Barstool Sports' Party

Paul Abell/AP Images for Natural Light
Not Your Father’s GOP

The two major political parties in the United States of America have been undergoing fundamental shifts in their identities for a few years now. I’m going to paint with some broad brush strokes here at first but, trust me, I know whence I speak, or rather, write.

The GOP that I grew up in and became an activist in was generally thought of as the party of the corporate elite in America. The Democrats were fond of shouting that the Republicans were “the party of the rich,” despite the fact that they’ve had Kennedys underfoot for almost 70 years now.

The Democrats, on the other hand, were the self-described “party of working Americans.”

There were elements of truth to each of these descriptions, although there were some assumptions in each that were very flawed. For example, most major U.S. corporations spread money around rather evenly to both parties. It’s been that way for a very long time. And Republicans were more popular with small business owners back when these labels applied. Democrats didn’t include them in the definition of “working Americans,” which is ludicrous for those of us who grew up working in family-owned businesses.

Still, there was more validity than not to each identity.

That’s all been getting flipped. It’s difficult to tell when it all began but it was most definitely accelerated by Donald Trump’s arrival to the 2016 presidential race.

I did a Japanese television show in 2017 that explored the Trump phenomenon. It was 90 minutes long and featured 18 panelists — 9 pro-Trump and 9 anti-Trump. Joining me on the pro-Trump side were a couple of union guys, including a United Steelworkers boss. Both had voted for a Republican for president for the first time in their lives.

What seemed like a wild anomaly just four years ago probably wouldn’t shock that many people today.

We’ve always been a coalition of different backgrounds over on this side of the aisle, and that coalition is growing.

I happened upon an article in Politico that posited that the GOP had now become the “Barstool” party, in reference to Barstool Sports, a no-filter site that covers a lot more than sports. The article comes close to making a point but, because it’s Politico, it trips all over its biased, narrow worldview on the way to doing so:

A half-decade ago, the originally Boston-based site and its rabid fan community wouldn’t have scanned as “political” at all. But now, its proudly Neanderthal, reactionary ethos aligns perfectly with the side of our political binary that Trump reconfigured: the one whose common denominator is a tooth-and-nail, middle-finger unwillingness to accept liberal social norms.

Got that? If you oppose “liberal social norms” you’re a reactionary Neanderthal.

There are reasons that I would gladly consider myself a “Barstool Republican,” most of which the article misses, although it does get a few things right.

The author operates from the premise that the GOP was until recently a party made up mostly of evangelical Christians, which is a story that the Dems have been telling forever and has never really been true.

What the article gets right is that Portnoy’s willingness to use his platform to throw down in the culture wars appeals greatly to Trump conservatives. America is toast if the Left keeps running roughshod over the Right in that struggle. Both Trump and Portnoy have brought that point to the forefront. For too long, too many conservatives have only paid lip service to the idea of battling over the culture. Now, even some of the Capitol Hill Club “Harumph!” Republicans are getting it.

Barstool’s appeal to conservatives goes well beyond Portnoy’s willingness to stick a finger in the eye of the woke scolds, however. First, it’s a great American success story: local sports site becomes a national cultural juggernaut and makes its founder rich along the way. As we are the party that openly celebrates people getting rich, we’re suckers for that kind of thing.

Barstool isn’t resting on its laurels, it keeps branching out. I’ve been listening to its first true-crime podcast, which was launched in April.

While Politico would love to portray Portnoy as simply a boorish buffoon who happened to get lucky, his swashbuckling attitude saved 427 small businesses during the pandemic. Tired of watching the government shut small businesses down and then give “relief” money to the likes of the Lincoln Center, Portnoy launched the Barstool Fund. He wanted to raise some money to help out a few small businesses. The goal was immediate relief that was free from red tape, with some continued help to keep the businesses open. Using his popularity to get the word out, Portnoy helped turn the Barstool Fund into a phenomenon that would raise over $40 million to keep people’s lives from being ruined.

Finding a private-sector solution to a tragic problem that the government “help” wasn’t really helping at all is something that all conservatives should cheer.

So yeah, Republicans, if being the “Barstool Party” means celebrating individual achievement, the private sector, and telling the leftist culture Stasi where to put it, then let’s give a big “Hell yeah!” to that.

Or let’s obsess over decorum and the right color tie while the Left turns the kids into commies.