When Gov. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.) dared to sign HB2, a bill that repealed a Charlotte ordinance which would have forced private businesses and charitable religious organizations to allow grown men who “identify” as women to use the same public bathrooms and showers as girls, the left banded together with its allies in corporate America, the entertainment industry, and the mainstream media and spent the next eight months carpet bombing the state of North Carolina.
As my colleague Terry Schilling pointed out in The Federalist:
“They launched corporate boycotts. They took away the NBA All-Star game. They cancelled sold-out concerts. And then, after ensuring the economic pain would be as excruciating as possible on residents of North Carolina, Roy Cooper and the Democrats placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of McCrory.
“The left essentially staged an economic crisis in order to win an election. Nasty.”
This blitzkrieg by progressives, an obvious attempt to bully the GOP into submission on the “gender identity” issue, made McCrory’s race one of the most consequential of the 2016 cycle.
He was outspent by nearly $8 million and was up against an avalanche of opposition from progressive elites, who dominated the news media and pop culture.
And despite all of this, McCrory barely lost. Just one or two million dollars more in financial support from conservative donors likely would have put him over the top. Unfortunately, these donors largely froze. Why?
One of the big fads among conservative organizations and donors is spending millions and millions of dollars in an attempt to change institutions that are virtually unchangeable — academia, the mainstream media, pop culture, the entertainment industry — institutions over which the left has a complete stranglehold.
This is misguided, at least when it comes at the expense of engaging in critical political races.
Politics is the only part of the culture that can easily be driven by ordinary people. Everything else — academic institutions, Hollywood, the entertainment industry, even corporate America — is all controlled by the progressive elites.
We can’t decide what books are published, what TV shows are produced (and what agendas those TV shows push), what universities teach, or what corporate America sells. The idea that we are going to direct all our money attempting to change those aspects of culture, rather than the one aspect of culture where we can have a real impact and reverse cultural trends — by winning in politics — is insanity.
So why aren’t conservative organizations and donors spending more on politics? Why didn’t they protect McCrory, go on offense fighting the culture war, and save themselves tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in future spending on efforts to play defense?
Conservatives don’t succeed by persuading the elites. We succeed by persuading the people.
There was no academic work in favor of Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts. It was opposed by every elite. Yet ultimately, Reagan’s tax cut model became GOP orthodoxy… because Reagan won.
Trump’s policies on trade, immigration, and even abortion were universally derided by GOP elites during the campaign. Now, he is completely transforming GOP policy and preparing to affect real change on those issues, despite being opposed by elites. Why? Because he won.
Winning elections is not only an efficient and cost-effective way of affecting cultural change, but for conservatives, it is perhaps the only way to do so successfully.
The irony of ironies is that McCrory would have almost assuredly won had conservative organizations and donors pitched in just another $1 or $2 million — relative pocket change when compared to multi-million dollar projects being funded merely to study how conservatives might use different messaging on social issues in future elections.
While those projects go on, and while Washington policy wonks wonk out, winnable political battles are being outright surrendered — such as what happened in North Carolina, where voters, by and large, supported the actual provisions in HB2.
Now, with a political establishment that is in all likelihood unwilling to go the way of McCrory, believing that fighting on social issues is a death sentence, conservative organizations and
donors are going to pour their money into legal efforts to defend against activist courts and academic efforts to write white papers no one will read.
Amazingly, despite Republicans now holding the House, the Senate, and the presidency, those of us who believe that men probably shouldn’t be showering with women are preparing for 2017 as if we were relegated to minority status!
The underlying message of not letting men shower with our daughters is a winning one, but only if it is actively promoted. That doesn’t happen unless conservative donors pony up.
Liberals and their corporate and entertainment allies spent millions of dollars driving home the shameful idea that, if North Carolina voters didn’t vote Democrat, liberal institutions would abandon the state, and people would lose jobs. Extortion was their central campaign message!
This was an easy message to counter, especially given the extreme nature of the Left’s position — that grown men have a civil right to shower with young women, and that any business or organization that dissents from this view should be removed from the public square.
But driving home a message takes money, and the money wasn’t there.
Conservative organizations and donors pinched pennies and refused to go all-in to help McCrory, and now those same donors are going to spend ten times, twenty times, maybe even a hundred times as much fighting the narrative created by the very election they abandoned — the idea that progressive gender ideology cannot be defeated or discussed in politics without it spelling sure defeat for the Republican.
Get ready, donors, to spend millions of dollars in court fighting the practical implications of “gender identity” being considered a protected class.
Get ready to spend millions more fighting the Left’s new “proven” strategy — that by colluding with corporate elites, the entertainment industry, and the mainstream media — they can get literally anything they want, and the GOP will just cave.
This could have been prevented. We could be celebrating a popular defeat of progressive gender ideology. Instead, we are up against a narrative, promoted even by the likes of establishment conservatives like Sen. Thom Tillis, that “controversial social issues” cost us big league.
What a shame. The only question now is, will conservative organizations and donors learn this lesson for the next North Carolina? Or will we continue channeling Don Quixote — tilting at windmills we can’t defeat, while refusing to fight the battles we can actually win?
Frank Cannon is the president of American Principles Project. Follow him on Twitter @FrankCannonAPP.
The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.