This Sunday, many of the most important names in American conservatism will be gathering in Miami for the third annual National Conservatism conference. Within a few short years, we’ve gone from a vague tendency to a full-fledged movement. No discussion of conservative lanes fails to mention the NatCons.
Unfortunately, some of the competing conservative camps would rather delegitimize us than debate us. Forget our opponents on the left; our erstwhile allies on the right have been spreading myths about who we are and what we believe. It’s time to set the record straight.
Myth #1: NatCons Are Isolationists
After Iraq and Afghanistan, most of the country — both right and left — is far more reluctant to send our troops to fight foreign wars. Don’t blame the NatCons for this; blame neocon overreach.
The new consensus is to engage abroad only when we identify clear threats to our national security. But this still leaves enormous room for debate about what constitutes such a threat and how to respond to such threats.
As opposed to the stereotype, the NatCon movement is home to a broad spectrum of opinions on these issues. There are those like Fox News host Tucker Carlson who urge us to concentrate on the most dangerous looming threat — China — rather than being distracted by what they view as lesser challenges. That’s not isolation; that’s focus.
I and many other NatCons recognize a broader cast of enemies, including Iran and Russia. The solution we propose, however, is not to send American troops abroad to confront them. We instead recommend identifying and supporting allies who are willing to confront these enemies on our behalf. We see strengthening allies like Japan, South Korea, India, Israel, and Ukraine as the best way to protect our interests abroad. That’s not isolation. That’s the one form of internationalism that may well survive our Middle Eastern debacles.
Myth #2: NatCons Oppose Free Markets
I have yet to meet a NatCon who doesn’t revere the free market as the engine of our prosperity. But we see the free market as the best means to an end and not an end in itself. We’re therefore willing to depart from orthodox laissez faire when the national interest requires it.
Market intervention becomes especially important when supposedly free trade isn’t free at all. Many of the Founders, for example, recognized that Great Britain was manipulating free markets by subsidizing its domestic industries and then protecting them through tariffs. They understood that Great Britain would employ these tools to crush American manufacturing in the cradle, condemning us to be a supplier of raw materials for British factories.
In response, our first secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, advocated an industrial policy that included subsidies for infant industries along with protective tariffs. His policies were later championed by Henry Clay and were ultimately implemented to their fullest by President Abraham Lincoln. By the close of the 19th century, American industry was beginning to surpass that of Great Britain.
Many NatCons see a parallel between British abuse of free trade in prior centuries and Chinese practices today. Thus we too call for a wise industrial policy and protective tariffs to level the playing field. This may betray the views of some Austrian economists. But it fulfills the free market vision of our most commerce-oriented Founders.
Myth #3: ‘NatCon’ Is Just Another Word for Trumpist
We’re focused on policy, not personalities. You’ll find no hero worship or life-size cut-outs at our events.
Many of us supported President Donald Trump and voted for him twice. We give him credit for moving our nationalist agenda from the conservative fringes to its vital center. I and many of my colleagues were conservative pariahs until Trump mainstreamed our policy preferences.
That being said, we welcome any politician who champions all or even part of our agenda. Among the speakers featured prominently at our conferences are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Josh Hawley. If you held a presidential straw poll at NatCon, I have no idea who would win it. That’s exactly the way it should be.
Myth #4: NatCons Are White Nationalists with Better PR
We both have the word “nationalist” in our name, but that’s where the similarity ends.
From our very first days, we’ve told white nationalists not to attend our events. I publicized the ban during the first plenary session of our first conference by declaring, “We are nationalists, not white nationalists. If anyone here tonight believes that being an American has anything to do with the color of someone’s skin, please leave. There’s the door. Your ideas are not welcome here.” No flirting with white nationalism here.
We’re used to the left shouting “racist” to shut down dissent. It’s disappointing —
and telling — when our critics on the right stoop to the same tactic.
David Brog is the president of the Edmund Burke Foundation, which hosts the annual National Conservatism conference. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidKBrog.