Last Saturday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum addressed an Americans For Prosperity (AFP) event in Troy, Michigan, highlighting the increasing prominence of the conservative group.
Americans For Prosperity began to counter the organizational advantages the left had on the ground, which often made the difference in crucial elections across the country.
“The left always had an advantage on the ground [with] labor, radical environmentalists, local groups,” Americans For Prosperity President Tim Phillips said in an interview with HUMAN EVENTS. “Our side could not match that.”
Conservatives and tea party supporters have not been enthused about the crop of Republican presidential candidates this cycle, and much of that is because those candidates were on the wrong side of critical issues during the last decade. Romney implemented RomneyCare, which ObamaCare was modeled after. Santorum recently admitted that he voted against some of his principles on spending programs and earmarks because politics was a team sports.
When Americans For Prosperity came onto the scene though, the group was on the right side of issues, even when Republicans were in charge of the federal government, which gives Americans For Prosperity not only more credibility now, but also gives the group the benefit of the doubt that they will not put Republicanism over conservatism even if Republicans regain power in the future.
When asked what the current crop of presidential candidates need to do to gain the trust of conservatives, Phillips said Romney needs to more passionately defend his work in the private sector.
“I hope and would urge him to become just more comfortable … there is a passionate side to economic freedom,” Phillips said. “We’ve got a system that we favor that has pulled more people out of the muck and mire of despair and poverty than any system in the world, and that’s something to be passionate about.”
Phillips said Santorum needs to have a broader message of economic freedom while Ron Paul, who has good plans for cutting spending and erasing government agencies, could be less “bombastic” in his statements.
As for Gingrich, Phillips cautioned Gingrich against sounding like someone who was against capitalism.
Right from the beginning
In 2006, one of Americans For Prosperity’s first national projects was the “Ending Earmarks Express” project, which Phillips says is one of his two most proud accomplishments.
Phillips said that it “seemed like a titling at windmills endeavor” because even under the Republican Congress, earmarks were nearly quadrupling what they were when Democrats controlled Congress.
Phillips said earmarks were an important issue to tackle because it was not only symbolically important but also because, too often, appropriators would buy the votes of legislators for bigger spending bills with small earmarks.
“Over time, the public came to agree with us,” Phillips said of earmarking.
Another landmark accomplishment Phillips cited was “The Cost of Hot Air” campaign that Americans For Prosperity started against global warming and cap and trade, when those issues were popular among those in the mainstream media, corporations and many Republicans.
He called it a “wonderful accomplishment” how much the debate has shifted in favor of those against cap and trade policies.
Continuing the momentum
In addition to helping mobilize and train conservatives to rival the left in 2012, Americans For Prosperity will focus on efforts, such as repealing ObamaCare and supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in his battle against public-sector employee unions, dear to conservatives.
Phillips said the efforts in Wisconsin supporting Walker were paramount and that ObamaCare is one of the few issues of social welfare that is less popular a year it has passed because the legislation is “so manifestly terrible for health care choices.”
When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments regarding ObamaCare, Phillips said Americans For Prosperity will organize a rally in Washington that he hopes will send a message to Congress, which will be in session that day.
“We want congress to see the visceral frustration over this legislation,” Phillips said, noting that if the even part of the legislation is overturned, it will go directly back to Congress.
Americans For Prosperity was one of the first organizations to mount a campaign against ObamaCare — they used a bloody red hand print to symbolize their campaign to get the federal government’s hands off of health care — and helped shift public opinion to their side.
Shifting public opinion and standing firm on conservative principles, even when they are not popular, have been trademarks of an organization that seems poised to continue impacting the national debate this election cycle and beyond.