I’ll admit, the Fourth of July is certainly an odd time to urge Americans to look across the pond for guidance. For American conservatives who are rightfully concerned about our country’s future and the future of the America First movement, however, there is no better blueprint for success than the one charted by British conservatives in the second half of the 20th century.
Capturing the White House in 2016 was no guarantee of future victories, and the loss of the White House in 2020 is no guarantee of future defeats.
In May of 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill oversaw the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. Two months later, British voters rewarded Churchill for his wartime leadership with a resounding electoral defeat. Churchill, however, didn’t simply walk away from politics, nor did he allow the values he fought for his entire life to be undone by one election. Six years later, Churchill was vindicated when the British voters returned his Conservative Party to a majority and, Churchill, once again, became Prime Minister.
But the true culmination of Churchill’s vision for Britain wouldn’t be realized until 1979, with the election of Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher won three consecutive elections, serving as Prime Minister from 1979-1990, and fundamentally remaking Britain. Among other accomplishments, Thatcher embarked on a dramatic program of privatization, restored the prestige of the British military, and reformed education.
The lesson of the long fight fought by British conservatives is a valuable lesson to the new populist right in the United States today: capturing the White House in 2016 was no guarantee of future victories, and the loss of the White House in 2020 is no guarantee of future defeats.
[caption id="attachment_191126" align="aligncenter" width="1920"] Former President Donald Trump.[/caption]
Despite the tremendous successes of the last four years, which included a new commitment to fight for working-class Americans, Joe Biden is now President. There will be no do-over of the 2020 election; no magic wand waved to suddenly put former-President Trump back in office. American conservatives now face a historic decision. Do we emulate the path of post-war British conservatism and choose to continue the fight, or do we cede back control to the Republican establishment and the special interests that have hamstrung American conservatism for decades?
For me personally, the answer is clear: we must fight on. The stakes are simply too high not to fight.
The truth is that the Republican establishment would be happy to return to life before Trump.
To quote Churchill himself, “This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
The truth is that the Republican establishment would be happy to return to life before Trump. They would be happy to go back to doing the bidding of Wall Street and K Street at the expense of the American worker. They want to go back to being the party of endless foreign wars and adventurism, back to being the party of open borders and job-destroying trade deals, and back to being the party of crony capitalism and special interests.
We cannot let this happen. We will not let this happen.
Advancing the ideas of the last four years will require a commitment to growing our movement and educating the American people about the strength of the policies that undergird American populism.
[caption id="attachment_191127" align="aligncenter" width="1920"] Winston Churchill.[/caption]
The fundamental policies of British conservatism didn’t change from 1945 (when Churchill was voted out) to 1951 (when he was returned to power), to 1979, when Thatcher completed the work Churchill started. What did change was the British people’s perception of those policies, and the record of success that came once those policies were implemented.
Our challenge going forward is to prove that we can unite the country—and it is our policies that can and will do just that.
We must similarly make the case that the policies of the Trump-era Republican Party are good—for all Americans. We must continue to grow our coalition, expanding on this past election’s unbelievably successful outreach to black and Hispanic Americans. We must also make the case to young people, to women, and to suburban voters.
British conservatives initially failed to overcome the perception that they were only a war-time party; by 1945, the British electorate was understandably exhausted after years of war. The challenge after that defeat was to convince the British people that the policies of British conservatives could be as successful in peace as they were in war.
Today, the American people are also exhausted; they are tired of the bitter partisanship that has engulfed our political system. Tired of the polarization and personalization of politics that has poisoned so much of America. Our challenge going forward is to prove that we can unite the country—and it is our policies that can and will do just that.
As conservatives, it is time to find our inner Churchill and continue to fight.
This article is part of a Human Events Opinion Special Collection released July 4th, 2021: "INDEPENDENCE DAY 2021." You can read the other pieces in the collection here.