Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
Nowadays, it can be hard to figure out just what it means to be a 'conservative.'
Does it mean the promotion of limited government ideals such as free markets, minimal immigration restrictions, and wide-ranging privatization? This is what untold millions have believed since the early 1980s, when the modern conservative movement crystallized under the influence of Ronald Reagan and his key backers.
The roots of their philosophy -- though some might say 'ideology' is a better term -- stretch back to what California was in the post-World War II age; a land of industry, a magnet for new residents, and fertile ground for diverse ideas. Amid this constant cultural change, pro-commerce voices competed with labor activists for the loudest bullhorn. Anything seemed possible, though a uniquely Californian brand of optimism, palpable as San Diego sunshine, ruled the day.
Nobody ever imagined the good times would come to an end. Who had the gall to think that Reaganism might give way to the New Left superstructure now entrenched in Sacramento?
That Reagan conservatism proved a flash in the pan, rather than a long-term trajectory, is a bitter pill to swallow for most center-right Americans. None too few movers and shakers still speak the late president's name in an almost deistic context. Nonetheless, his beliefs' lack of societal staying power and the hugely unpopular neoconservative ideology that succeeded them have placed a damper on the Gipper's legacy; especially for the under-40 crowd.
Presently, one must ask if conservatism means something different from what Reagan championed. Does it pertain to the preservation of America's Anglocentric culture, the defense of its borders, and the protection of its economic power from emerging foreign markets?
The new conservatism is actually quite old -- a throwback to what the Taft family, Calvin Coolidge, and Teddy Roosevelt stood for. Its resurgence comes against the odds; internationalism was trumpeted as the Washington Consensus until less than a year ago and there seemed little chance of changing this.
Now, a fierce battle of ideas unfolds over not just which variant of conservatism should triumph, but something far deeper: What matters more -- the transcendent ideals of Reagan or the kith-and-soil campaign of the Tafts, Coolidge, Roosevelt, and Donald Trump?
Paul Nehlen has proved himself one of the emerging right's most vocal and enthusiastic proponents.
Earlier this year, Breitbart described him as "not another lifelong politician, but a business executive and inventor. Nehlen started out on the factory floor, and through God's grace, grit, and determination rose to lead Fortune 500 manufacturing businesses around the world. Nehlen challenged Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin’s 2016 First Congressional District to stop Trans-Pacific Partnership and secure America’s border. Today he is waging the battle against the refugee resettlement racket and leading the cause to fight for America’s values."
Nehlen's run against Ryan attracted international attention and, though there was no upset victory, a serious, well-funded campaign against the Speaker sent shock waves far and wide. Nehlen continues to remain relevant by advocating for, more or less, the America First philosophy of Donald Trump -- though with a distinctly Midwestern, homespun approach. With a large following and contemporary-right message, it seems likely that Nehlen will remain in the news for some time.
While two weeks are an eternity in politics, I would not be surprised to see Nehlen holding some substantial office in two years. Either that or some serious leadership role in the ever-more-nationalistic conservative movement.
Nehlen recently spoke with me about many topics relative to American politics. Some of our conversation is included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: During the 2016 presidential race, Paul Ryan went from being one of the most popular elected officials in the GOP to facing widespread disapproval. Ryan, who represents the free trade Washington consensus, subsequently moderated his anti-Trump line, but still holds economic views which are less and less popular among American conservatives. Having run the most high-profile campaign against Ryan that he ever endured, what do you make of this situation?
Paul Nehlen: President Trump’s actions and my actions on behalf of American workers clash with Paul Ryan’s priorities. Paul Ryan is the sum of his big bank, big law firm, big insurance company donations. Speaker Ryan fully supported TPP and before becoming Speaker, whipped the votes to give President Obama Fast-Track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) for Trans Pacific Partnership. TPA is essentially an end around to the spirit of Congressional Treaty ratification as delineated in Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. His first Monday in office, President Trump signed America out of that horrendous FTA.
Speaker Ryan is now back at it with the ill-conceived Border Adjustment Tax (BAT), in stark contrast to President Trump’s tariff minded policies. Eight years of promising a repeal of ObamaCare, Ryan’s the dog that caught the mail truck, and seems ill-prepared to deliver a repeal. In stark opposition to GOP polling, Ryan funded every dangerous refugee resettlement, sanctuary city, and immigration policy the Obama administration dreamt up and fundamentally opposed by the majority of Americans.
Cotto: Insofar as the foreseeable future of American conservatism is concerned, 'America First' holds great promise; especially since the alt-right fell from grace. In a summary sense, what does 'America First' mean to you?
Nehlen: America First holds enormous promise. America First is not leveling the playing field as we are told incessantly we should aspire to do. America First is tilting the playing field in favor of American citizens in all matters: jobs, security, education, energy policy, immigration, the list goes on. Foreign nationals have elected representatives to work on behalf of their citizens, unless of course we’re including China or other communist / dictatorships.
Regardless, the question and the answer comes back to one of American citizen’s elected representatives abiding their Oath of Office and working on America's behalf, ahead of all others. That’s not to say we as American’s don’t live up to our responsibility as a global superpower. Putting America’s disadvantaged behind disadvantaged foreign national’s would be an example of what not to do. People must thrive where they hail from. We cannot bring the 5.5 billion people who make less than the average Mexican worker in Mexico to America.
The same wave that created Brexit was the same wave that swept Donald Trump into the White House. Neither Donald Trump nor Nigel Farage (Brexit leader) created that wave. It was a wave of discontent created by so-called conservatives like Paul Ryan who succumbed to the siren call of globalism. That same optimism and global ‘Our Country’ First thinking can and will create, not destroy prosperity, as citizens of all countries hold their elected officials accountable.