Interview with Michael Johns, Co-Founder of the U.S. Tea Party Movement

Michael Johns, co-founder of the Tea Party, speaks in Rockefeller Hall on Tuesday Evening. (Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor)

Michael Johns is an American conservative public policy leader and business executive. In 2009, he co-founded the U.S. Tea Party movement and has since served as one of its leading strategists and spokespersons. Michael has served in executive and management capacities with McKesson, Eli Lilly and Company, and Gentiva Health Service. He has served as a White House speechwriter to President George H. W. Bush and a senior advisor to New Jersey Governor and 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and U S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe. He frequently appears on cable networks, such as Fox News, Fox Business News, CNBC, BBC, France 24, in addition to numerous media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and National Review. Michael is a graduate of the University of Miami, where he majored in economics and graduated with honors.

By: Declan Kunkel

When did you get your start in politics? What made you become involved in the Republican Party?

Michael Johns: I think it’s an interesting story. I essentially had two very contrasting experiences growing up, and both got me thinking about government and public policy for the first time but in very different ways. I grew up in a small eastern Pennsylvania town in the Lehigh Valley region of the state called Emmaus in the 1980s. It was a region whose economy was based very extensively on manufacturing. Bethlehem Steel, the second largest steel manufacturer in our country at the time, was based there. Mack Trucks had a large presence there. Casilio Concrete and Air Products were based there. It was a region where there were abundant opportunities for people who worked with their hands, what we commonly call “blue collar” workers. At that time, Bethlehem Steel was the place to work. The wages were good, and the perception was the job stability was too since there would always be demand for steel. But competition from China, Japan, and other regions of the world hit the Lehigh Valley in a very detrimental and disproportionate way. I watched friends’ parents lose their jobs. These were people very deeply rooted in the Lehigh Valley. They could not pick up and leave for a job somewhere else. They had kids in schools there. They had aging parents nearby. And after spending a couple decades learning how to smelt steel in blast furnaces, steelmaking was what they knew and loved. A little to the north of where I grew up, in the Coal Region of Pennsylvania, it was the same story: I saw hard working Americans who took pride in their work and worked hard but found themselves losing these opportunities because of macro trade and global economic forces that were ultimately totally beyond their control. My paternal grandfather was a small town mayor in the Coal Region in addition to being a coal miner and a World War II Purple Heart recipient.

At that time, I saw a lot of fear. I saw a lot of anger. I saw a lot of frustration. All of it got me thinking for the first time about government and communities for the first time, and my first instinct was very rudimentary: Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this, I asked myself? I quickly saw that very powerful forces were at play: Foreign governments subsidizing industry and operating with cheaper labor and regulatory standards than were required here. And subsidized product dumping designed to put American manufacturers out of business. I don’t think my initial views then were either conservative or liberal at the start. They were just practical and instinctive. It troubled me to see harm done to communities and to see our government so unresponsive to that harm. And so I started to think for the first time about how I could play a constructive role and what I could do. I started to get a passion for some of these issues and dived into learning all I could about them. I read a lot for the first time on my own about politics and public policy, about history and economies, including many of the conservative classics. I found myself talking to others about these topics and challenges in casual ways, and I started to see a lot of commonality of thinking about what was happening and yet just as big of a consensus that government was seemingly unable or unwilling to do much about it.

Then I got to the University of Miami in Florida, and I found a similar set of circumstances with many of my Cuban-American friends whose families had been driven out of Fidel Castro’s Cuba after the 1959 revolution there. They told me about arbitrary jailings and killings, about property being seized by force by Castro’s government, about really brutal abuses of human rights by the Cuban government, about what life was like in a genuine communist tyranny. As I heard these stories, I found myself asking the same question I asked back in the Lehigh Valley: Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this? And yet, there were real differences between what I witnessed in the Lehigh Valley and the stories I heard in South Florida. In the first case, I started to realize, it was basically a case of government not protecting and defending the interests of its citizens. In essence, government was not doing enough. Yet, in the case of the persecution of Cubans, it awakened me to the reality that sometimes government can do worse than nothing. Governments can do real life harm. Governments can steal. Governments can kill. Governments can be dangerous and hostile and even at the core of evil. It was at the University of Miami where I became an anti-communist. And in about five minutes after becoming an anti-communist, I concluded that being an anti-communist meant supporting the Reagan administration, which was then entering its second term, and also being a Republican.

All of this led me through a bunch of first steps in the fields of public policy. I was elected president of University of Miami College Republicans. I interned with my Congressman from Pennsylvania, a really great and bright and dedicated public servant named Don Ritter, who was the only scientist in the U.S. Congress at that time and spoke Russian fluently. And I went through a great program in D.C. called the National Journalism Center, which introduces conservatives to the basics of journalism. I got a little taste of Washington, and I decided that I was going to do everything possible, everything within my power, to be a force for good in public policy and that I would likely have more influence there than anywhere else. So I got right to Washington, D.C. after graduating from The U and worked five great years at The Heritage Foundation, where I was an editor and then a foreign policy expert.

What was it like to work in the George H. W. Bush White House?

It was a great honor, of course. I was more a Reagan Republican than I was a Bush Republican, but I was impressed with President Bush’s vast experience. Much of it Americans don’t even know much about, or they’ve forgotten. But let me tell you about this man: He was a World War II hero in the Navy before he attended Yale. He didn’t have to enroll in the Navy but he did out of the same sense of patriotic obligation that I felt and feel. He represented Texas’ Seventh Congressional District in Congress, and did so as a conservative. He ran the Harris County Republican Party. And he went on to assemble the most impressive resume I think I’ve ever seen in this profession: Nixon appointed him U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in New York City. Ford made him our envoy in China. Nixon asked him to run the Republican National Committee in the middle of the Watergate scandal, a period of immense self-reflection and loss of confidence among many Republicans. He, of course, ran the Central Intelligence Agency under Ford at a crucial moment in history as the Cold War was intensifying everywhere, especially in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and as the demand for U.S. intelligence capabilities were exponentially expanding. And while Reagan beat him in the 1980 presidential primary, Reagan saw Bush as crucial to maintaining consensus in the Republican Party and made him his running mate. He was an immensely successful and engaged vice president not just in the U.S. but on the global stage. When Barbara Bush died earlier this year, I started to think for the first time that one day he will be gone too. We will see his hearse and motorcade driving down a Texas highway with red and blue lights flashing, and we’ll say: “There goes one of our greatest.” I support Trump. He opposes Trump. I’m a movement conservative with a practical side. He’s a practical politician with a conservative side. We aren’t identical but there are enough common denominators for me to say I really respect him as much as any living political leader.

But I arrived in the Bush White House at a moment when there was a pretty broad consensus that he was not going to be reelected in 1992. That was pretty shocking to many because his support had been over 90 percent earlier in his term following the liberation of Kuwait. It was difficult to ever imagine him losing. But he was, and there were many factors at play. One of the central ones was his violation of his “no new taxes” pledge. I also found that many of his appointees were actively engaged in alienating the conservative base in the country and convincing him to abandon crucially important conservative positions and promises he had made to the American people. There were many reasons he lost in 1992, one of which is the American people very rarely sustain any one particular party in power for too long, and the Republicans had been in the White House since January 1981. But I saw conservatives feeling demoralized. They were not sufficiently motivated to invest a lot in his candidacy. I think some conservatives even secretly hoped he lost so they could make some broader political point about moderation being politically detrimental, or because they felt more comfortable as an opposition political force than they did as a governing one. I did not want Bush to abandon his conservative promises, but I also admired his instinct to try to function amicably with everyone. That’s my approach too. We often hear many in this profession describe political or public policy differences at war. That’s insane. It’s important to remember: Only war is really war.

I guess the other thing I really love about the opportunity is that there is a neat little community of those of us who have served as White House speechwriters in modern times. Probably not more than 50 or so of us alive, but it’s an impressive group: Chris Matthews, James Fallows, Christopher Buckley, Peggy Noonan, Pat Buchanan, and others. Safire and Schlesinger, two icons, are gone. I admire all of them, not because they mirror my own policy views necessarily but because of their ability to communicate complex public policy themes so well. It’s a group of insanely talented individuals. Every memorable presidential speech or quote you remember since Kennedy was written by one of them. “Ask not what your country can do for you” wasn’t Kennedy. Ted Sorensen wrote that memorable line. But I guess thinking it was Kennedy’s line can be forgiven because I recently had to tell someone it wasn’t a Living Colour lyric, that it actually came from one of the most important and influential presidential speeches ever, Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address.

How can we trace the development of the Tea Party movement? Does it go back to the George H. W. Bush administration?

The Tea Party movement is the largest and most transformational political movement in American history, and I would say the sentiments that led a few of us to start it began percolating around the bank bailout in 2008. A lot of us just looked at that bailout and said, “Wait. Let me understand this. The same banks that engaged in all these unethical and ultimately bad business decisions are actually profiting from those decisions?” We did not bail out their victims. We bailed out the very banks that launched the entire subprime crisis that nearly brought down the entire global economy. With Goldman alone, $12.9 billion in counter-party payments through AIG and $10 billion in TARP relief. I think this was the moment when many of us realized this wasn’t even a partisan battle. It was a battle of Washington and Washington special interests versus the people. And things got even worse and pretty quickly under Obama. Americans saw representative democracy eroding before their eyes. They saw an alien ideology seeking to openly transform a nation they loved. They saw government overstepping its bounds in vast ways.

Then, on February 19, 2009, I was one of a few Americans who had CNBC on in the background, and I saw the Rick Santelli rant. His ability to capture all this frustration in a couple minutes of reporting from the Chicago Board of Trade got me thinking that we needed some vehicle to communicate both the frustrations and aspirations of the American people. I knew there were millions of Americans out there who shared our views and frustrations, and I knew I was not alone in feeling something needed to be done, even if it was only symbolic opposition. So we brought together a conference call of about 20 conservatives the following evening. Some of us knew a few others on the call, but none of us really knew each other too well. None of us had really ever worked together. And we all said, “This is the moment. We need to start something that can offer the American people an opportunity to get engaged.” I still have the invitation to that call, and I think it is ultimately going to belong in a museum somewhere.

Our original intent with the call was to organize a huge number of rallies–basically one in any city with more than 250,000 people or so–on Tax Day, April 15, 2009. I spoke in Boston that afternoon, and then headed down to lower Manhattan to speak at night. There were thousands of people. They just kept pouring out onto the streets. Easily a couple thousand on Boston Common, and then about 14,000 or so in New York City. It was the same thing in cities all across the country–in Chicago, in Nashville, in Houston, in Los Angeles, in Dallas, San Antonio, in Denver, Phoenix and Pittsburgh. You name it. The United States of America was changed that day. I do not think you can overstate the historical significance of the groundwork that was developed on April 15, 2009. I sort of figured and knew that we could get thousands and maybe tens of thousands of people activated. But it ultimately proved to be tens of millions. The people were looking for an avenue to bring some commonsense, foundational principles, and practicality to government. That is what the Tea Party was and is. It does not need to be any more complicated than that to be hugely transformative. And Obama was so defensive, I knew it was just a matter of time until he started denouncing us publicly, which of course he did. And then it was just a matter of time until they took action, which they did in ordering the IRS to target our organizations, for which the IRS has since publicly apologized. There is no way, in my view, that the order for that targeting came directly from the West Wing and probably from Obama himself. The administration was too rigorously managed and there were too many political sensitivities for that to have been some lower level rogue operation.

There has been a lot of scholarship by scholars who say that the Tea Party was a reaction to the Obama Administration and Obama electoral coalition. What caused the Tea Party movement?

Yeah, I joke that if you think the Tea Party movement hasn’t generated economic growth and prosperity, tell all these professors who wrote these Tea Party history books about us to send back their advances. And by the way, I know almost none of the guys who’ve written these books. They’d publish a 250-page book on the Tea Party movement. I’d ask, “Who did you speak with in the Tea Party movement.” “Oh, no one,” they’d reply. Shocker that those books are mostly filled with stale and inaccurate liberal cliches and botched historical interpretations of what has actually gone on these past nine years.

But the answer to your question is that the Tea Party movement’s creation was a classic “supply and demand” story. The American people did not feel comfortable with the direction of the country in 2009. They did not appreciate Obama disparaging America, or traveling the world apologizing on our behalf, or telling entrepreneurs and small businesses “you didn’t build that,” or expanding government at a record pace, including a plan to take over the $9 trillion healthcare industry that touches the lives of every citizen in our nation. Yet, there really was no role available to the average citizen to get engaged in doing anything about these things before the Tea Party movement. You might say, “Well, there’s the Republican Party,” but the Republican Party both then and now is too narrow. And despite liberal allegations to the contrary. the Tea Party movement wasn’t and isn’t a Republican Party vehicle anyway. There were and are many Tea Party Independents and some Democrats. And there were many Americans who had never done anything at all politically, including vote. So I would say the Obama administration was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but the reality is the frustrations even predated it. Americans simply were not feeling that anyone in Washington, D.C. had their back, or even grasped their concerns. And honestly, they didn’t. Washington, D.C. is an island onto itself where lobbyists will represent either side of a cause, where Congressmen and Congresswomen dart from fundraiser to fundraiser collecting checks to sell out the voters who sent them there, and where the suffering of Americans right before their eyes gets ignored. Like Reagan used to say, politics is the second oldest profession in the world, but it resembles the oldest profession in the world in hauntingly similar ways.

The Tea Party movement also taught me that we really do have some unifying themes in this country. I always suspected it, but the Tea Party movement has proven that most Americans insist that we adhere to the U.S. Constitution and are troubled that we are weakening in that commitment. Most Americans believe government needs to exist but that it is too large and too self-serving to be blindly trusted. Most Americans feel overtaxed. And we’re literally in a country where local regulators will shut down a kid’s lemonade stand. They feel over-regulated too. Mostly, though, they do not feel represented. They call their Congressional office, or write, and they get voicemail or a meaningless, thoughtless form letter back. Their Congressmen don’t even hold town hall meetings. We have a handful of legislators–and this remains the case today–who huddle with K Street lobbyists behind closed doors and decide what legislation will and will not manifest. I have spoken to most Republican Members of Congress, and this is shocking to many Americans but they feel the same way. Many go to Washington hoping to change the world and quickly end up demoralized, realizing it’s like any other job. Leadership and lobbyists tell them what to say and what to think and how to vote. This was not what our founders intended, and the genius of our Tea Party movement is that we did not look at all this and seek to create a whole new ideology or set of ideas to counter it. We know, as most Americans know, that this nation was founded by some of the bravest and brightest people the world has ever seen. Our country evolves. Things do become more complex. But the reality is that the founding principles of the nation–truths that our founders deemed self-evident–are still self-evident truths today. We believe in these truths and defend them.

In my wildest fantasies, I have sometimes wondered if Jefferson, Washington, Paine, Adams, Hamilton, Franklin, Madison and others could reemerge for a few days and speak with us, would they be proud of what our Tea Party movement has done? I’ve thought enough about it and concluded, yea, they probably would. But I think they would have immense disappointment in many of the deviations from our founding principles. Some say, “Well, they would not recognize the United States today.” That is true, of course. But the reality also is that they were aware then that things would change in unpredictable ways. They did not give us the U.S. Constitution and say, “Here. These are the rules. Period.” They gave us the Article V amendment process for a reason. They gave us balance of power. They gave us an independent judiciary and rule of law. In doing all of this, they knew that the ideas and challenges of the nation would evolve but that however it changed government must remain accountable to the people, not vice versa. They also knew quite well that government’s ability to hurt was just as powerful if not more powerful than its ability to help. So that is one commonality throughout the Tea Party movement: A recognition that we are a unique nation founded by extraordinary individuals, and that our founding principles need to be defended and applied. Our nation was founded with a deep and justifiable skepticism of governmental power. Our founders saw those systems in action, fled them, and ultimately launched a war against them.

How did the Tea Party interact with the Romney 2012 Presidential Campaign?

The Tea Party movement was the driving force behind Republicans winning back the House in 2010. Everyone engaged even a little bit in American politics in that election cycle saw that we were the brains, the energy, and the blood behind that historic victory. Some of the most prominent conservative politicians today emerged from that election cycle and ran as “Tea Party Republicans.” We picked up 63 seats and defended many others in the House alone. It was the biggest seat pickup by a single political party since Republicans won 72 seats running against FDR. So, two years later, we entered 2012 with a feeling that anything was possible and that the race was winnable. We never hear this from the mainstream media, but Obama’s popularity was never much greater than Trump’s is today at that time. Obama entered the 2012 presidential race with about a 50 percent approval rate, meaning half the nation did not approve of his direction. And I would say even his 50 percent approval rate was inflated. Many felt uncomfortable telling a mainstream media pollster they did not approve of Obama because they knew the mainstream media did. And that’s the problem with polls. People respond with what they think a pollster wants to hear, not what they actually believe. So a pollster asks, “What radio station do you listen to?” They’ll say, “Oh, I listen to NPR.” They’re really listening to Destiny’s Child and Ariana Grande on Z100. What television shows do you watch? “I watch PBS.” They’re really watching Jersey Shore reruns. So we had a media telling us every day how great Obama was. I knew that Americans would feel reluctant telling a pollster from these same outlets, “I totally disagree with you.” They either didn’t take the call, or they told them what they wanted to hear so they could get off the phone.

But the reality is, even knowing what Romney surely knew about the vast populist reach of the Tea Party movement and the fact that it was the Tea Party movement that forced Nancy Pelosi to hand that gavel to John Boehner in January 2011, Romney’s campaign was run by the usual Republican consultants. And they thought and acted like the traditional and predictable consultants. They did not really reach out to the Tea Party movement like they could have or should have, though Romney did address one Tea Party event in Philadelphia. And the result is that many conservatives did not feel sufficiently inspired by his candidacy to get out and vote. Millions stayed home, and those millions were the difference makers in crucial must-win states. Romney’s candidacy definitely had some moments of greatness–like the first debate in Denver. You could sort of see the arrogance of Obama, and Romney delivered a few major blows. Romney did well in the Hofstra debate in Long Island too. But the real reason Romney lost is he simply did not inspire the voter base like Trump did in 2016. All of that started by not engaging the Tea Party movement from the very beginning. As soon as I saw that we were on the margins of that campaign, I knew–and I think every Tea Party member knew–it was unlikely he could win. And it’s a shame because, as opposed to being the junior Senator from Utah, I think he could be in the second term of his presidency if he had engaged the Tea Party movement in a meaningful way.

Was the 2012 failure a result of Romney’s lack of understanding of the Tea Party and the Republican base, or was it a difference of ideology?

Probably a little of both. I was entirely comfortable with his ideology. Others weren’t, especially of his healthcare plan in Massachusetts. Others were skeptical that he was too establishment. But he was surrounded by people who I’m sure were telling him, “Oh, those guys aren’t going to help you with swing voters, or with the suburbs.” That’s totally untrue. And the reality is that we also had major House and Senate races in 2012 with candidates who did reach out to us and were proudly running as Tea Party Republicans. It was tough for many to justify taking time away from them to support a guy who never really asked for our support. Had Mitt Romney stood up at his Stratham, New Hampshire announcement speech in June 2011 and said he shared the frustrations and aspirations of the Tea Party movement, he would have been our 45th President. All of that said, I did everything I could to help him, and I obviously voted for him.

What are the major victories of the Tea Party movement?

Obama promised a fundamental reformation of the United States of America in his 2008 campaign. But the reality is that he did not change much of anything, and that’s because the Tea Party movement engaged tens of millions of Americans against his policies and then won both the U.S. House in 2010 and the U.S. Senate in 2014 to essentially block his most radicalized legislative ideas. In fact, the Resistance movement today was basically founded by a few liberal Congressional staffers who said: “We were on the inside, and we saw the way the Tea Party movement stopped the entire Obama legislative agenda.” It isn’t even a secret. They published a whole report arguing that and trying to replicate our tactics.

So we held some very disastrous policies at bay. As bad as you think things could have gotten, it would have been even worse absent Tea Party movement opposition. We may never have recovered. Yes, I believe the Tea Party movement can be credited with saving this nation.

But political victories come and go. I think the real victory of the Tea Party movement is creating an avenue for centrist political activism for Americans who share our three founding principles: adherence to the U.S. Constitution, limited government, and lower taxes. Many Americans who share these values were standing demoralized on the sidelines because they had no one they really identified with. It is the Tea Party movement that said, “We know things look bleak. We know we have no political leverage right now in Washington. We know you feel kicked and downtrodden. But things are going to change, and we are going to change them.” And in reshaping dialogue back to our founding principles and educating the American people on those principles and on what powers are and are not afforded the federal government under our Constitution, we got many Americans to recognize that our founding principles are and must always be enduring principles. Of all of the bold things I have done in my life–standing in the middle of the Angolan jungle with anti-communist resistance forces in the middle of a major Cold War civil war, for instance–I don’t think anything compares to my promises to the American people that we would win. I know they needed to know we could win to be inspired and engaged, and I knew without them being inspired and engaged it was hopeless. But I first needed to feel comfortable intellectually that we could win before going out on a limb and promising it. Had we not prevailed, I guarantee I would be reminded every day for the rest of my life how wrong I was. I’d be a running joke on Brian Williams and Lawrence O’Donnell. I knew that too. But I concluded the opposition was vast and that we could turn the entire federal government–and state and local governments too–around. And I promised that, and so did many others.

How does President Donald Trump interface with the Tea Party Campaign? How does the Tea Party interact with Trump? How will the Trump administration effect conservatism in the future?

I endorsed President Trump on the first day of his candidacy, June 16, 2015, because I know he has the sort of fortitude necessary to stand against political pressures and the swamp culture. That takes a special kind of strength, and he was the only candidate I saw who was forcefully addressing our trade crisis, our immigration crisis, our cultural crisis. It is less known but President Trump also spoke at a Tea Party rally in Palm Beach back in 2011. He was and is a supporter of the Tea Party movement, even though some of my colleagues opposed his candidacy. I know for a fact he came out of that Palm Beach Tea Party rally, got in his limo, and said: “Wow. That was great.” In the Tea Party movement, I think the President saw for the first time the promise that a successful populist national political campaign was really possible. Some questioned my conservatism in endorsing and supporting him. Rich Lowry said on Fox News I was handing the White House to Hillary Clinton, for instance. These guys never reemerge to apologize, of course. But I knew I had spent more time in the grassroots than these people. I knew Trump was serious in his love of country and placing us first, and I knew that he has personal traits that are extraordinary and unmatched in modern political life. This is not a perfect man, but this is a man for this moment. And I was convinced enough Americans would see all these things too.

So they were wrong and I was right about him in multiple ways. They said he couldn’t win. Period. No chance. He got 304 electoral votes. And they said he was not a real conservative, but he is the best thing to happen to conservatism since Reagan and maybe ever. His tax and regulatory cuts are aligned with our Tea Party agenda. In Gorsuch and Kavanaugh and many federal judicial appointees, he’s advancing the principles of conservative jurisprudence and original intent that we champion. He is undeniably the most pro-life president since Roe v. Wade. And I think, and most would agree, that it was the Tea Party movement that gave birth to modern conservative populism that allowed Trump to not only run without Republican Party support in the primary but to run pretty openly run against the Party establishment. It was the Tea Party movement that built the foundation for mass rallies as an effective 21st century means of political organization and communication. Without the Tea Party movement, I think Trump would have been forced to run a much different and certainly less populist campaign. I think we paved that road, and thank God we did. So his winning the primary was not a Republican Party victory. It was a victory over the Republican Party whose top leadership did not want him the race and repeatedly urged him to get out and did everything possible to undermine his candidacy up to the Cleveland convention when they finally aligned with him.

How do you think that commentators like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson will change our political culture?

I’m not sure exactly. I think you need to decide who you are ultimately. Both of those guys are more commentators than political leaders if I understand them correctly. If you have the guts to walk into a room of hostile liberals, as I have done and as they have done, and preach truth, I respect you greatly. That takes guts in 2018. But it’s ultimately not enough. We aren’t going to win because we have great authors and college lecturers. We are going to win because we have a winning and understandable message being transmitted through a vast and organized collaborative political movement. If you have the former and not the latter, it’s useless. So I instruct fellow conservatives: Do not assume that we are doing everything correctly, or that your voice is meaningless. Just realize that your voice alone has its limits. Combine with one other person and you double your persuasiveness and reach. Combine it with tens of millions and it will be exponentially so. I see our prospects for success answered in a few very simple questions: Can we all organize together? Can we all work together? Can I count on you? Can you count on me? And I don’t mean, can I count on you to show up and give a lucrative college lecture. I mean can I count on you when the hours are long, when the the opposition is playing hardball, when we are losing, when there is no obvious reward at the end of the rainbow except knowing we did the right thing to live another day? We have a lot of work to do on those fronts. It takes a movement, and that means collaboration. We need to be bending over backwards to work together and help each other.

How can the Tea Party movement interact with the changing demographics? How can the conservative movement stay fresh and accessible as we move forward?

I think our Tea Party movement’s demographics very closely mirror those of the general electorate. African American and Hispanic representation is roughly what it is in the general population, though it should be higher. Women are very well represented and are some of the Tea Party movement’s most effective leaders and members. Our age demographic probably tilts a bit over the median, but that’s not uncommon in political advocacy. I think we need to do more to take our message into urban communities and liberal-leaning suburban communities and say, “You may think you know us based on what Rachel Maddow tells you about us every night, but let me really tell you the truth about what we stand for.” Let me stand here for as long as you like and answer every question you can think of. Just give me a hearing, and you’ll see I definitely keep it real, I listen attentively, and if you have a better idea than mine I will toss my idea and embrace yours. The only parameters are not comprising on our Constitution or on ethics. Those are red lines.

I see successful political organization as a conversation. It’s about speaking principles but also hearing the realities of people and understanding the things they think about when they wake up each morning and the things that might keep them up at night. It’s about responsiveness to the problems confronting Americans while defending the great principles upon which this giant experiment known as the United States of America is built. It’s about ensuring your priorities are my priorities because if they aren’t, what’s the point? That’s the game, and defending this nation and ensuring we leave it better than we found it must always be the goal.

Content originally published in The Politic.

Declan Kunkel is a senior in Morse College.