The third annual National Conservatism Conference in the US, or NatCon 3, recently took place in Miami, FL. The conference, featuring keynote speakers Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Republican Senators Rick Scott (FL), Marco Rubio (FL), and Josh Hawley (MO), was not at all what I expected as someone who has attended numerous political conferences in nearly a decade of grassroots involvement.
From the experiences of attending similar events such as the well-established Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), multiple Turning Point USA conferences, and State Policy Network I was confident I’m innately familiar with the “new right.”
The Republican Party, since its founding in 1854, has always been a coalitional movement. The pre-Trump paradigm focused heavily on Reagan’s Stool–a political strategy asserting that Republican victory is derived from a coalition of Christian social conservatives, fiscal restraint voters, and national defense war-hawks. Trump’s 2016 campaign brought in new voters that changed this paradigm and upset the apple cart of Republican strategy, yet at its core, Republicanism remains a coalitional movement, simply one with new dominant forces.
Following the results of the 2020 election, some Republicans remained skeptical as to whether the new populist wing of the GOP could maintain dominance in the future coalition paradigm of right-wing politics. More than anything, the current midterm field and the new darlings of the national Republican scene indicate that a philosophical shift has occurred, with or without Trump himself, and it is still a dominant force in the new Republican Party which likely has not reached its zenith of power.
NatCon 3 is not a conference that could have taken place in the pre-Trump Republican ecosystem.
The conference itself was a three-day-long affair, packed with speakers from various spheres of the political world. From faith leaders to professors to influencers, panels were stacked to the brim with impressive headliners, academic analysis, and a high-minded discussion on the driving philosophies behind conservatism and our nation itself. All debate was interwoven with the common thread that faith, economics, domestic, and international politics cannot be separated into simple segments of one-issue voters. They must instead be rediscovered as a cohesive worldview presented by conservatives for the preservation of our nation.
The public conception of national conservatives or national populists on the American right, at least as portrayed by corporate media, is one of the low-information voters energized by the rhetoric of a fire-brand candidate yet lacking almost entirely in substance. I believe “New Right” ideas are more applicable to not only the modern challenges our nation faces but also the historical basis of our nation’s founding. However, at times these ideals are lost by modern messengers and in cults of personality. As a graduate degree-wielding Republican Party officer, I also fall generally into the national conservative segment of the GOP. Yet, the intellectual fire-power of the “New Right,” which includes the national conservatives, is rarely recognized in the media and is ostensibly a very new feature of the movement. NatCon 3 decided to capitalize on the rising crop of “new Republicans” and showcased their firepower.
The conference included panels covering hot topics such as critical race theory, gender ideology, woke cancel culture and Big Tech, China, and institutional capture. It also featured more metaphysical topics such as faith, community, and national identity. I have never been surrounded by so many Ph. D.s, Ph.D. candidates, and scholars at a political conference as NatCon 3 presented. Conservatism is often defined by what we stand against– a “We can’t agree on what we want, but it’s not that” mentality. While NatCon 3’s speakers certainly stood against many things, including what Yoram Hazony, one of NatCon 3’s chief architects, labeled “Woke Neo-Marxism,” the message from the majority of speakers was clear. National conservatism stands for a nation, founded on a pervasive faith in God, built on the foundation of traditional families and strong community ties, advancing forward and passing its values, history, culture, and traditions from one generation to the next as a treasured inheritance, and defending the same fiercely.
Other conservative conferences I have attended included few overtly religious attendees – either the pro-life activists or the odd religious non-profit sponsor table. By contrast at NatCon 3, panels, speakers, and attendees were in large part proudly religious: most identified as Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish – although not all attendees were religious. Attendees without close ties to a faith tradition comprised a noticeable minority, and many who I spoke with still recognized the abiding utility of Christianity as a social and cultural institution to preserve conservative values within a nation.
NatCon 3 bore another striking difference to the previous generation of conservatism– the Shapiro-style “facts don’t care about your feelings” strain of the movement did not seem to be an animating force at the conference. Conservatives generally consider themselves to be more logical and fact-based in approaching subjects of public policy. However, the modern “rayification of conservatism segments out the religious right to a very small subset of policy questions (right to life, prayer in school, etc.) often failing to consider more spiritual questions that are inseparable from human nature. Fiscal conservatism exchanges simple, quantifiable, and sometimes unnaturally sterile applications of observable truth.
So-called “Fiscal Conservatism” has become synonymous for a “GDP rising equals good” mentality, and has become increasingly difficult to defend in the face of canceling by employers, de-platforming, de-banking, and, in a few cases, having children taken away from parents by the state. Simply disagreeing with the woke ideology that has subsumed our public sphere, as well as private sector corporations, often presents the “offenders” with tangible and deeply personal consequences for which fiscal conservatism has no firm answer.
NatCon 3’s pervading message that national morals matter just as much, if not more, than national politics offers an answer to this increasingly uncomfortable question challenging the old Republican paradigm. As Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, charged in his closing keynote speech, “If conservatism has a future, it will be explicitly tied to theological claims and convictions.”
The recognition of the necessity for an overt religious influence and a prevailing Christian sentiment within the populace for the future success of the conservative movement was echoed in Senator Josh Hawley’s remarks.
“Without the Bible, there is no modernity. Without the Bible, there is no America,” Sen. Hawley asserted.
Conservatives by nature must be conserving something, but without a bedrock set of beliefs, without a pervasive understanding of a larger and higher truth, conservatism becomes just as unmoored and post-truth as the woke left.
The reality is, our nation was not founded by a group of privately religious yet publicly neutral men. They were not bound together by a shared desire to increase the almighty GDP, animated to fight the most powerful military on earth by a shared belief that people are inherently valued base on what they produce, and inspired to outline and practice a completely unique form of government for the purpose of arguing over how much or how little to spend on budget line items that their grandchildren will ultimately pay for. This is not the nation we live in and we should not be “conserving” a watered-down and politically expedient version of that heritage.
If we are conserving anything we should be conserving the truth, the structure, and the heritage of our nation’s founding. If we are to do so honestly we must do so fully and proudly. We are a nation, while we started as many colonies, we were brought together by a common cause and bound together, willingly, for the common defense and common good. We united to defend our interests and territories first, before any other nations. Nations are not just demographics and economic figures sorted together on a spreadsheet. Nations are living tapestries of a corporate heritage, history, culture, and traditions woven together to create something wholly unique among the distinct peoples of the world.
Our nation was founded by men. They were united by their shared belief in a Creator both more powerful than themselves, and one they’d be accountable to in the end. They bound themselves together based on a shared understanding of their inherent rights as free Englishmen. In fact, most eventual revolutionaries grew up as proud loyal subjects to the crown, who they believed had granted them those freedoms. They were not persuaded to fight a revolution and form a new government until they were firmly convinced that those rights had been violated and their sovereign was not holding up his end of the bargain. They outlined and practiced this entirely new form of government, which is our inheritance. It is ours to protect and preserve these unique rights and the way of life they pioneered at high personal cost, for every generation that followed them.
These men were not adverse or hostile to other nations, in fact, they cultivated friendly relations wherever possible at great personal cost, however, they understood that their nation was unique in the world. To it, they held a primary duty. NatCon 3 featured international speakers and attendees, yet their overt national identities caused no conflict. Each understood the primary duty to his own nation first. This was evidenced by the stirring tribute to and moment of silence for 9/11 by an American at the conference opening, and the solemn and moving eulogy to Elizabeth II by an Englishman at the closing ceremony. Each group recognized the honor in a person loving and zealously guarding his own land and tradition. It was in this mutual recognition that national conservatives from around the world found common respect and honest space for discussion surrounding cooperation and mutual aid.
NatCon has grown every year, with NatCon 3 being the largest in year-over-year growth. By now, if there were a competing philosophically coherent movement within the Republican party, there would be evidence. If we are conserving anything, it must be something of substance. We can only attract people to our movement if they have a firm grasp of what we are for and why it is of value. National conservatism’s intellectual framework did not make the conference sterile. NatCon 3 presented a complete worldview, understanding that people must believe in something larger than themselves and that they do not divorce this private belief from decisions that affect the public sphere. There is one tradition common to the Western World, Christianity, and its precepts created the most humane and prosperous nations and cultures the world has ever seen. This is worth celebrating, improving on, and yes, conserving.
This is an attractive message, and it is a message that the previous generation of conservatism lacked. In an increasingly insubstantial, post-modern, post-fact world, unmoored people seeking truth will seek substance. In order for conservatism to prevail, we must provide substance that our fellow citizens can grasp onto and make their own. The intellectual fire-power of the conservative movement is growing more and faster on the New Right, which is engaged in discussing and contemplating future issues and deeper questions instead of rehashing the same decades-old squabbles. As this trend continues, national conservatives can only continue their upward trajectory to becoming the dominant force in the Republican Party.
NatCon3 provided a unique preview for a comprehensive message, built to resonate and to last, that will topple the leftist stranglehold on the West.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Republican Standard.