AUSTIN — This week, conservatives from across the country gathered in Austin for the first ever Resurgent Gathering. In Texas This Week, Ashley Goudeau sits down with the Founder of The Resurgent website Erick Erickson.
Ashley Goudeau: For people who don't know what The Resurgent is, what is it?
Erickson: "It's a community website about community building. Anyone can come, create an account and write about their views on local politics and national politics from a conservative perspective."
Goudeau: And you all are hosting your first convention. You decided to do it here in Austin, Texas. Why is that?
Erickson: "We knew we had a lot of readers in Texas. We get probably about ... 25 to 27 percent of our readership overall is from Texas. And I've got a great working relationship with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, so Austin seemed like a great fit. It's one of my favorite places to begin with so it was natural. Doing it the first weekend in August, maybe not the greatest idea, but I grew up in Dubai, I'm used to the heat."
Goudeau: So tell us a little bit about the whole purpose of the conference, why you felt it was important to host a conference for your readers.
Erickson: "Well, we're kind of living in an age where conservative and conservative thought is being torn between fully supporting the Republican Party or being an ideas-based group. How do we define conservatism as opposed to having it be a synonym for the Republican Party. I think now, with President Trump being the president, it's a great time to have these conversations about where is the dividing line between Republicans and conservatives."
Goudeau: Where do you think that line is? In your opinion, what is a true conservative?
Erickson: "I think a true conservative is someone who values individual liberty over the collective good, knowing that if you take care of the individuals, then the collective good is going to be taken care of as well. And limited government. I tell people all the time, I'm actually a conservative because I'm a Christian. I think everybody's a sinner and I want as few in charge of me as possible."
Goudeau: When we talk about conservatives, people typically always think of Republicans and the Republican Party. But what's your ideas on conservative Democrats?
Erickson: "Well, you know, there are common ground I think for conservatives and Democrats in some cases. And particularly when it comes to school choice at the local level, we're seeing more and more Democrats at the local level resonate with the idea of school choice. So we see the idea of consumer options being an area where we can find support across the aisle and, in some cases, even deregulation of certain areas of society to lower costs for people. I think that when we look at conservatism as a synonym for the Republican Party it is something that hurts the ability of conservatives to find a broader coalition of ideas but there are a lot of ideas out there that resonate when you take political parties out of it."
Goudeau: And so how important is it for you, as a conservative, to reach across the aisle?
Erickson: "I think it's very important. Now in some cases, we're not. The Democratic Party has very much become a party of progressivism, and conservatives really have no home outside of the Republican Party. But there are a growing number of people who identify as independents or moderates where you can find a broader coalition than just the Republican Party. In a lot of cases, moderates, most pollsters would say, are Democrats who are a little bit concerned with the progressive drift. And independents are Republicans who are concerned with President Trump. So neither want to be identified with the parties, but there's still conservative ideas that resonate with them from energy policy to regulation to free market control of the internet to education choice."
Goudeau: In the last legislative session here in Texas, we really started to see a split in the Republican party between your traditional business-friendly Republicans and the self-proclaimed Freedom Caucus Republicans. Where does the conservative viewpoint fit in those two divides?
Erickson: "It's one of the great things about having these conversations over the last couple of days here is trying to shape where the balance is because there really is a split, people don't realize within the Republican Party, over business. Some Republicans very much believe that if Republicans take care of Fortune 500 companies, it's good for everyone. But there's a growing number, and the Freedom Caucus would be among them, and we got some of this in our conversations, that taking care of big business at the expense of small business isn't good. Big business relies on government for subsidy and picking winners and losers. Where if you just level the playing field as the government, you can allow small businesses to become big, but that may mean some big businesses then become small. And the government shouldn't be picking between them. It's really more of a division within the Republican Party. It's a fascinating dynamic that's growing. I am on the side of government should not be giving tax breaks and extension benefits to lure giant corporations into a state that then puts existing businesses in those states at a competitive disadvantage."
Goudeau: And so where do you think this is really going? Will we continue to see this divide grow or do you have hope that there will be some consensus within the Republican Party?
Erickson: "By and large, winning finds consensus and as Republicans continue to be successful they will. I think it's important to note the reason we're having these conversations though, or these fights, is because the Republican Party really has become a majority party nationwide, with the exception of the presidency during Barack Obama's era, Republicans were successful nationwide, building majority coalitions. But by nature of coalitions, they have competing interests and the Republicans are still trying to find their footing with how to have a stable coalition. Democrats can now have the fights they're having with progressivism because they are becoming more ideologically consistent as Republicans, surprisingly after 20 or 30 years of ideological harmony are starting to realize we've got a lot of people in the party who disagree with each other."
Goudeau: And all these things happen in cycles. Because we once saw that happen with the Democrats, right?
Erickson: "Yes, very much so. The Democrats in the 50s and 60s were starting to become more ideologically diverse from progressives by bringing in small businesses. By the 1990s, with Bill Clinton as president, some say he was the last moderate Republican president rather than a Democrat given the business and ideological coalition around him. Republicans are now having those problems and it's part of a party that's having growing pains."
Goudeau: One of the interesting topics you guys are taking up, and I think it really resonates for people here in Austin, is grassroots campaigns and action through Google. Talk to me about that.
Erickson: "We wanted to have a technology focus. There's conservative concerns with both Facebook and Google, who both decided to sponsor the conference. And come talk to me on Friday and Saturday about the conservative concerns with the platforms but also how do you harness technology? Conservatives now sometimes think everything now is about Washington, D.C., but it's not really. It's your local community. So how can you use Google and Facebook to have conversations with people in your own backyard as opposed to railing on about Washington, D.C. I write a lot about the idea that scripture says look for the welfare of your city and you'll find your welfare there. And I think conservatives and liberals both need to realize we're going to actually change America at the local level, not really at the Washington level. Your day-to-day life is going to be impacted by your city council and school board much more than Washington. And so I want to encourage conservatives in particular to really focus on the local level, and technology is a part of that."
Goudeau: When we look at some of those local policies, are there some here within Texas that have caught your attention or your eye?
Erickson: "Yes. This past legislative session the issue of faith-based adoption agencies and should they be allowed to participate at the state level. Likewise, a lot of the school choice initiatives in Texas and tax policies in Texas. Texas is suddenly booming again as an economic engine, and states like Georgia, just two years ago where I live, was rated as the number one place in the nation. The exact same survey now says Texas is. What can Georgia steal from Texas to get back at number one?"
Goudeau: It's important, I think, to have these conversations regardless of what side of the issue you're on, right?
Erickson: "Yeah I think so. We have found, just go back to the Bush administration where conservatism and Republican really became a synonym. And you saw sort of the break up of that toward the end of Bush administration, and conservatism shouldn't mean the Republican party. But as people get in power, people want access to power and you begin to march in lock-step together, where I think you have to have the tension of ideas on both sides to really shape good public policy. Having the debate is necessary. Having the conversation is necessary. That's why during the conference these last couple of days everyone has sat on stage with me and instead of doing a campaign speech, he, the speaker and I have had a conversation and an exchange of ideas. Because it's easy to give the campaign speech
but it's harder, I think particularly in the 21st century, to have a meaningful conversation about ideas."
Goudeau: I think one of the things that's also really important is for people to understand how to have that dialogue without it becoming contentious, without it becoming emotionally charged. What would you say to people, whether they're conservative or moderate or they're on the other side, about how to have that conversation?
Erickson: "I actually wrote a book on this topic last year where I included a bunch of recipes in the book. I'm a big believer that you can break bread. Food should not be partisan. People should be able to get around the dinner table and have a conversation. We should not have our friendship in this country defined by what side of the aisle we support. Our friendship should be defined by do our kids play well together? Do we go to the same church? If we don't go to church, if you're not of faith and I am, do our kids play on the same team? Do we live in the same community? Do we care about the same homeless person and how to help that person? National politics is breaking up friendships and I think having people around the table, breaking bread together is the perfect way to start bringing people back to having meaningful conversations outside of politics. And once you have those conversations and realize the other side just disagrees with me, they're not bad, then I think you can begin to find public policy where you find common ground."