Why grassroots matters for the conservative movement
Nearly one year later, what was the lesson of the 2018 midterm elections? Policy progress depends on the grassroots. The left proved that local energy drives political and policy victories, and now they’re doubling down. For the sake of 2020 and beyond, it’s time for conservatives to catch up.
The left specifically prioritized the grassroots prior to 2018. The capabilities they built helped establish and extend leads in voter registration and mobilize existing voters. Look no further than Nevada, where Democrats registered nearly 50 percent more voters than Republicans in the final two months, giving them an overall advantage of more than 100,000 voters. The swell of liberal grassroots support helped the liberal Steve Sisolak beat the conservative Adam Laxalt in the gubernatorial race. Now the new governor is enacting a wish-list of liberal policies.
Fast forward a year, and Democrats are trying to repeat this feat in state and national elections. In Arizona, Democrats have registered at least 10 percent more voters than Republicans since last November. In Virginia, registration is up 9 percent in Democratic areas over the past four years, compared to only 6 percent in Republican-leaning regions. In state after state, liberal organizations are building a massive grassroots infrastructure with the goal of pushing the American people to embrace a far-left agenda.
The left is spending absolutely massive sums. Democracy Alliance, a liberal collection of donors and organizations, is spending at least $100 million in critical swing states. The group’s president is on the record saying, “we have to be funding organizations in the grassroots.”
These efforts have only ramped up in recent weeks. Some of the largest and most liberal grassroots organizations in the country — such as MoveOn and Indivisible — are preparing a major campaign around the impeachment of President Trump. The pro-abortion group Planned Parenthood alone will spend at least $45 million on grassroots efforts over the next 12 months.
The left thinks this is the chance to build a liberal majority for years to come. This will happen, unless conservatives meet and exceed the other side’s commitment.
Liberal groups are spending so much on grassroots because they know they must overcome the ideas deficit. On issue after issue, Americans prefer conservative solutions and fear the left’s extremist turn. In recent nationwide polling, Heritage Action found that voters overwhelmingly see a national emergency over immigration, reject single-payer health care, oppose political correctness, and support capitalism over socialism. These are only a few examples of where the right has the right ideas, and where the left is alienating the American people.
The conservative challenge is to activate these citizens. As the left proved in 2018, this requires more than just television ads or digital campaigns. Grassroots infrastructure is the crucial factor. This, more than anything, is where conservatives need to invest.
At Heritage Action, we have already seen that grassroots works. Starting in 2010, we built an army of activists that held lawmakers accountable during the Obama years and made conservative victories possible under President Trump. From rebuilding the military to cutting taxes to rolling back reams of federal red tape, our grassroots network helped advance the most conservative agenda since the Reagan administration.
Yet now the need is even greater, especially with the left’s unprecedented emphasis on grassroots organizing. Conservative organizations, Heritage Action included, must dramatically expand our local capabilities. In addition to a permanent policy presence in Washington, D.C., we need a permanent grassroots presence all across America.
A permanent on-the-ground presence in local communities will make it easier to advance conservative objectives from statehouses to the White House to both houses of Congress. It will provide a constant source of pressure that lawmakers can’t ignore. This is precisely why the left is focused in this area. They know that a stronger grassroots presence will make it easier to enact their agenda. Yet while their agenda will take America backward, the conservative vision will move America forward.
Momentum matters in the fight for America’s future. Confronted with the liberal strategy, conservatives must respond with action and resolve. We can either cede the grassroots game to the left, or we can seize the initiative for ourselves and our ideas — ideas that animate a majority of Americans. Now is the time to ensure a future of American prosperity and security, built on a foundation of conservative principle and policy.
Tim Chapman is executive director of Heritage Action for America.