New Conservatives a Cause for Optimism: An Interview With Daniel McAdams

In a wide-ranging interview, Daniel McAdams, executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity and co-producer and co-host of the Ron Paul Liberty Report, discussed the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives, the 2024 U.S. presidential elections and the ‘rivalry’ between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, the many divisions in American society and the Republican Party, the corrosive effects of ‘wokeness’ on the fabric of the American Republic, the significance of the revelations from the ‘Twitter files,’ and the case of Hungary as a positive example for European conservative movements.

In January, Republicans took back the House. We saw what went on with the vote for House speaker. What sort of dealmaking took place to get the vote pushed through after fifteen attempts, and is what happened good for the Republican Party and for conservatives, in your view?

I think the dealmaking stemmed from the fact that the Republican platform to take back the House and Senate was not very well defined. Basically, it was Kevin McCarthy saying “it’s my turn,” and that didn’t sit well with some Republicans who were elected on something very, very different, which was to get back to some of the things that at least the Republicans talked about, which is fiscal conservatism, which is stopping the warfare-welfare state, which both parties agree upon. So that was the issue.

They are a smaller group than we’d hoped for, but there is a small group of younger Republicans elected to the House, a new guard that I think is trying to take this message forward. So I think that overall it was a positive thing, and I think it’s a very good thing for the Republican Party. And I do think that because there is such a tight, tight Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, that means this group of 20, give or take, if they can find a way to be cohesive, could approach a kind of a European multi-party parliamentary system, wherein they can act as sort of a ‘dealmaker’ between the two sides. And I think that gives them an enormous amount of political leverage, if they choose to use it. That’s the big question: if they choose to use it.

How would you evaluate the first few weeks of Republican control of the House?

It’s mixed. Of course, they didn’t run on anything particularly dramatic. Some of your readers may remember back in the early ’90s, when Republicans took over the House on the strength of Newt Gingrich’s ‘Contract with America.’ For all of its faults, that was a very clear vision for leadership and for change, that resonated with people, and it opened the door for radical changes. We haven’t seen that. We’re seeing the fight over the debt ceiling yet again. Republicans will cave yet again. There will be no cuts in military spending yet again. So, there’s plenty to despair about.

However, there are some bright lights, and I think one of the things that came out of the compromise came from a member of Congress that I respect very, very much, who happens to sit on the board of our institute, and that’s Thomas Massie. He was very clever, I think, because he didn’t join the 20 in opposing McCarthy. He voted for McCarthy each time. He probably viewed it as a procedural vote, meaning it’s not the hill to die on, and most likely for that he was given a position and perhaps a leading position on a committee to investigate the role of the FBI and the intelligence community in the social media and in our society. So, I think that could be a very helpful thing. A new Church Committee is definitely needed, so that’s a positive development. For the others, we’re going to have to wait and see. There’s a lot of showboating going on, as usual.

All eyes now are on the 2024 U.S. presidential elections. I think one question that a lot of people have is not just who the candidate will be, but among two of the leading names, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, if there’s a divide between them. The media gives off that impression sometimes.

The media and the elites, of course, have discovered their love for Ron DeSantis, and it’s born out of their visceral hatred of Donald Trump. It’s difficult to imagine in history a character so viscerally hated [as Trump]. I guess you might go back to Richard Nixon, because Nixon was similar. He didn’t come from the East Coast milieu, and he was rejected by the establishment, which of course in the late ‘60s was much stronger than it is today. And I think there is a bit of that there. Trump didn’t play by the rules. He’s very blunt. He had a blunt style of governing. He didn’t defer to his European colleagues, as you’re supposed to do. So, he did a lot of things in this way that upset people, and I think that’s one of the reasons why DeSantis is being pushed.

DeSantis has a history in the House, and he has a history as the Governor of Florida. But he doesn’t have a lot of experience. He’s a young person with not a lot of experience. You could say that about Trump: he doesn’t have a lot of experience governing, and he’s not particularly good at it, if you look at what he did over [his] four years [as president]. But I would say certainly those are the two frontrunners for the nomination. And if that’s the case, then Trump has a very, very wide lead between the two of them.

If we look at not just the Republican Party, but also Republican voters, there seems to be a divide between what the Republican establishment wants and what the Republican voters across the country want. How do you demarcate this divide and do you think it can be bridged?

I don’t know that it can, and you’re absolutely right in the question: there is a huge divide between the old line Republicans, people like the Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, who, if he hadn’t performed so badly, would have been the Senate majority leader. There’s a huge divide between people like him and people like Kevin McCarthy, and average Americans. And that is one thing Trump understood very, very well, and that’s why he was successful and surprised everyone in 2016, because he was able to craft together a coalition that hadn’t been addressed, I think certainly since Pat Buchanan ran in ’96. You might say not even since Ronald Reagan ran and brought in the Blue Dog Democrats, [when] he addressed the Midwestern blue-collar workers who had been left behind by both political parties. He appealed to them and he identified with them and they identified with him, and that was his great success.

I think you have a huge group of populist-leaning new conservatives—not ‘neo,’ but new conservatives, young conservatives. And I think a lot of them have been inspired either directly or indirectly by the Ron Paul movement, which was a broad coalition of people that coalesced and united on a few specific principles, rather than personalities. I think you do have that. You have the idea of auditing and ending the Fed. You have the conservatives embracing anti-war positions again, which traditionally they would have done before. You know, if you go back to the ’50s, you would see that approach. So, you do have the emergence of a new conservative movement. I think in the U.S. the problem is, it’s somewhat leaderless and it’s somewhat inchoate. It doesn’t have a really strong set of guiding principles. I feel optimistic about this development, but we’ll see where it goes.

On the topic of divides, I think we can look at American society more broadly. We have the ‘red state’ versus ‘blue state’ divide, which we could also define as an urban and rural divide. We see this increasing divide in American society really coming to the fore in recent years. Would you say that this divide is toxic for the American Republic?

I think right now it is toxic. And like any toxic substance in the body, it needs to be expelled. And you’re seeing a lot of that happening, particularly on the West Coast. There’s a very thin sliver of Oregon that’s extremely ‘blue’ and then the massive rest of the state, which is very ‘red,’ and that’s a big deal. And you have this huge divide. You have movements to join eastern Oregon with Idaho and things of this nature. Now, it’s hard to get momentum for making some of those things reality. But secession is a helpful thing. Subsidiarity, of course, is a conservative, Catholic, and Christian notion: the idea to devolve power to the most local levels.

I live in Texas. There’s a movement to separate Texas from the United States, which at first seems comical. But the people that are behind it are very serious. So, I think this is a helpful, helpful move. And if it’s not de jure, it could be de facto, a kind of secession of the rural areas, of the conservative areas, from the liberal areas. The idea of a national divorce [is] something my friend Tom Woods talks about a lot, and we do need some kind of a national divorce, because it’s getting increasingly difficult to live with people who espouse the kinds of authoritarian instincts that, unfortunately, the modern Left does today.

One of those instincts, according to many, is what we often call ‘wokeness.’ And we don’t just see some academics or some college students or anarchists behind this idea—nowadays, we see major corporations and major capital behind it. Why do you think that these big money actors have embraced ‘wokeness’ and what do you think their end goal is?

That’s a very complicated question. I first began to perceive the whole notion of ‘wokeness’ in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when I was in grad school. Back then, it was called ‘political correctness,’ and it was Jacques Derrida and Foucault and the other French philosophers that were pushing this idea. It’s a form of Marxism. I was afraid of it at the time, but I had no idea that it would take hold as it has done.

Why do corporations embrace this? There are a lot of reasons. Professor Per Bylund at the Mises Institute had a great talk last year about why corporations do this. Part of it has to do with the structure of corporations and the management structure of corporations, and that’s obviously too complicated to get into right now. But I think there is the assumption that, somehow, there should be a gain, whether it be monetary—and of course it should be, because they’re subject to their shareholders—or whether it might be political. It’s hard to know.

But I think we are seeing a backlash against ‘wokeness’ in the corporate world, and certainly in the entertainment world. People have just tuned out and turned off and have exercised their freedom of choice against companies that have been excessively ‘woke.’ So, I’m hoping there might be a pendulum swing back, but it’s certainly—you used the word ‘toxic’ earlier—it’s certainly a very, very toxic cloud hanging over the United States.

One of the spaces where we saw much of this ‘wokeness’ manifesting itself was social media. We’ve seen the ‘Twitter files’ come out and provide evidence of interference from the FBI, from the Biden administration, and from many ‘alphabet agencies,’ leading to the censorship of voices that are conservative or that are, let’s say, ‘not woke.’ What are your reactions to what has been revealed so far, and how do you think these revelations can be used to help bring about a swing of the pendulum, as you said earlier, back in the other direction?

What’s interesting is the absolute boycott of any information about the ‘Twitter files’ in the mainstream media. It just underscores how accurate the reporting has been. Interestingly enough, the majority of the work has been done by Matt Taibbi, someone I’ve known for a long time who was definitely not a conservative. He’s a person of the Left. So, you know, the heads that have been chopped have been on both political sides, anyone basically who colors outside the lines.

I think the Twitter files are the most important revelation we’ve had since, perhaps, the Pentagon Papers. You might include some of what Edward Snowden revealed in some of this. But I think in some ways, it’s more profound, because what it shows is that decades and decades of experimentation, of gaming out the idea of psychological control of a civilization, of a population, by the CIA and the other agencies—as you say, ‘alphabet agencies’—has been implemented and it has come into fruition and it has had the desired effect, until Elon Musk, for all of his faults, did the world a great service by opening the door and letting us see the rot.

What it essentially meant is that the FBI, the CIA, [and] other agencies have been able to manipulate our very perception of reality, right? So, if you have any doctor, for example, who disagrees with the extreme lockdowns, over the virus, etc., that person can be ‘disappeared’ every bit as physically as people in the gulags under Stalin completely disappeared. And then you say, well, “virtually all doctors agree with what we’re doing.” Well, “virtually everyone” agrees that we need to go to war with Russia over Ukraine, etc., so this manipulation of perception, this manipulation of reality itself, I think, should terrify people because it is a dystopian world that’s been created while we weren’t paying attention.

The fact that we’ve got a peek behind the curtain with Twitter just reinforces, should reinforce our fears that this is pervasive. Absolutely, it’s true, and Facebook and the other social media as well. But what about the regular media? We’ve seen that you get a call from someone in the FBI or the CIA saying, “take this down, take that down.” Well, who’s to say that they don’t call AP or the Washington Post or New York Times? “Take this down, take that down, take the other thing down.” It’s an absolutely fundamental challenge to what it means to live in a free society, to have a secret government that can manipulate your very perceptions of reality.

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