News & Politics

After Almost Four Months of Trump, Some Conservatives Are Calling for a 'New Conservatism'

A damaged election poster showing, left, Thierry Baudet and Theo Hiddema, from the Forum for Democracy party, FVD, in the Netherlands. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

One of my favorite American conservative radio talkers and columnists, Steve Deace, has written a scathing column for Conservative Review in which he argues that conservatism is politically dead. At least within the current Republican Party. That’s why he wants to ignite a debate. What’s next for conservatives, he asks.

According to Deace, there are four options on the table:

1. Hostile takeover of the GOP

Where the GOP was once a conservative party, it no longer is. That’s partially due to Trump, but also — and perhaps mainly! — because of Republican leaders in the Senate and Congress. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have destroyed the Republican Party as the party for conservatives, which it once was.

The good news, says Deace, is that although conservatives “have little sway in the GOP, much of its rank and file are still conservative.” Having said that, there’s also a major problem: “Civil wars are long, expensive and bloody conflicts.” What’s more, the Republican establishment has all the money it could possibly hope to spend. It’s their main strength, not their weakness.

2. Bolster an existing third party

Imagine what would happen if conservatives would suddenly move to the Constitution Party or the Libertarian Party? In no time, they’d be in control of those parties. However, there’s bad news, too: “While there are factions of disenfranchised conservatives who will find much to like about the ideals of the Libertarian or Constitution parties, there are fundamental differences between the two that could deepen existing divisions within conservatism.”

3. Create a new party

“A wise man once said something about the foolishness of pouring new wine into old wineskins. After all, this country is a living example that once paradigms embrace corruption, independence from the corruption must be declared, whether it is the Pilgrims fleeing corruption on the Mayflower or the Founding Fathers loading their muskets to stand up to it,” Deace writes. But there’s a problem, too: talented (aspiring) politicians will almost certainly take a wait-and-see approach. First, they want the new party to deliver—then they’ll join. That makes sense from their perspective, but it also means the new party will have great trouble making any inroads.

4. Reprioritize, then re-engage

As the late Andrew Breitbart used to say: “Politics flows downstream from culture.” This fourth option means that conservatives focus on the church and pop culture, hoping they’ll be able to influence politics indirectly. The problem? Does anyone actually think that conservatives can break through pop culture’s progressivism within, say, the next 20 years?

Right, I didn’t think so.

As a Dutchman (and European) I thought I’d also weigh in: In the Netherlands and in Britain, disaffected conservatives have tried every single one of these strategies. The one strategy that eventually paid off was number three: create a new party.

The story of UKIP in the UK is well-known in the U.S., so I won’t dive into that one here. However, there’s also an example from the Netherlands: Forum voor Democratie (Forum for Democracy) led by the young (and charismatic) Thierry Baudet. This party was created only a few months ago but succeeded in winning two seats in the 150-seats Dutch parliament on March 15 of this year. That was quite an accomplishment for the party, not only because it had no subsidies and only a few months to introduce itself to Dutch voters, but also because the party didn’t have any current politicians joining the party. Note: another conservative party (VNL) did have two MPs (who left their previous party and went on to create their own), but they failed to keep those seats.

In the meantime, FvD has created a youth organization which is now the largest political youth organization in the Netherlands. They gain new members every day, and — last but not least — have an incredibly large following on social media (and websites).

What made FvD (as the party is called) so successful (again, they’re only starting with two seats, but history has taught us that once you’re in parliament as a new party, you’ll quickly expand)? Well:

  1. Having a young charismatic leader.
    Thierry Baudet, certainly helped FvD get started. He comes across great on TV and is a fantastic public speaker.
  2. Baudet was already known as a conservative intellectual.
    That’s an important point to make: Baudet wasn’t just known as a “conservative firebrand” (although he is), he was also a well-respected conservative intellectual. A new party needs someone who can “relate to the common man” but also someone who has an in-depth knowledge of society, culture, and politics.
  3. The party perfected its use of social media.
    No other party was so successful on social media as Forum voor Democratie. Yes, that includes the parties that have been in existence for a century. They used memes as much as they could, livestreamed their events, and frequently organized Facebook Q&A’s.
  4. FvD was proudly conservative.
    The party embraced an unapologetic conservative agenda on a host of issues: immigration and integration (of migrants), social conservatism, democratic reform (more referendums), lower taxes, anti-EU, a realist foreign policy.
  5. It’s all about the issues.
    While campaigning, FvD focused on only a few of those issues: integration of migrants, democratic reforms, anti-EU. Voters who truly wanted to study the different policy views of the party could do so on their website, but while campaigning, they stuck to their core issues.
  6. FvD purposefully created good relationships with conservative websites.
    By doing so, they created a lot of goodwill. The entire conservative movement in the Netherlands wanted them to win seats—yes, even those who ended up voting for a different party.
  7. FvD focused on young voters.
    The young are often more energetic and more passionate. What’s more, they’re not entrenched in “the old system” yet. If you’re going to start a new party, having them on your side is a must.
  8. They were outspokenly anti-establishment.
    The governing elites—those included all the old parties, in FvD’s opinion—are the problem, Baudet and his colleagues repeated day after day. They even call the elites “the party cartel.” That’s to say: Those parties pretend to be different from each other, but when push comes to shove, they’re actually the same.
  9. They relied heavily on crowdfunding.
    FvD weren’t afraid to ask their supporters for donations. Instead, they turned it into a public race. They published the amount they wanted to raise and automatically updated the ticker on their website. Whenever someone donated, they saw it had an impact.
  10. FvD simply went around the mainstream media.
    Even though it was clear for months that FvD could very well end up in parliament, the mainstream media were hard pressed to give them any coverage. They were even excluded from the TV debates. Forum certainly wasn’t happy with that, but by using a) new media and b) social media they just worked around the media blackout. Who needs the MSM in today’s world? FvD certainly didn’t!

So, there it is: some advice for my American friends who are thinking about creating their own party. It won’t be easy, but you can certainly succeed if you know what you’re doing. Baudet and his Forum for Democracy proved that in the Netherlands.