Reflections from Principles First, an Anti-Trump Conservative Conference

Last weekend, an organization called Principles First held a summit in Washington, D.C., which was attended by over 400 people. The conference brought together a wide range of people who could generally be considered to represent the center-right of today’s American political spectrum: Republicans, independents, and even a few Democrats who think of themselves as at least somewhat “conservative” but who oppose Donald Trump and his toxic brand of politics.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) giving keynote address

I attended this two-day event because as an independent and former Democrat who rejects both Trumpism as well as the woke left that has increasingly taken over the Democratic Party, I wanted to find out if a center-right movement could feel like my new political home. I also wanted to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the efforts underway to form a meaningful political coalition to oppose Trump and his disciples in upcoming election cycles, either from within the Republican Party or through the creation of a centrist third party or trans-partisan alliance.

Overall, I found the Principles First Summit to be substantive, engaging, and sometimes inspiring in its tone and content. The group that organized it, as well as other organizations represented, seemingly contain much of the seeds that will be necessary for the growth of a powerful grassroots movement to present a positive vision for America — a broadly inclusive political alternative to compete with the extreme woke Democrats and Trumpist Republicans.

At the same time, it became clear to me that much more work needs to be done, and that voices such as my own, who come out of the classically liberal populist Democratic tradition, are essential for such a movement to fully appreciate what is happening in American politics today and to formulate the strategies necessary to move beyond the divisive ideologies that increasingly dominate our country’s two major political parties.

Will It Ever Be “Morning Again in America”?

If you grew up in America in the 1980s, as I did, your first memory of politics was almost certainly of Ronald Reagan. His dignified patriotism, moral decency, sunny optimism and positive vision of our country set the tone for a decade that was the last time Americans as a whole really felt good about ourselves as a people. Our country was so united, in fact, that in 1984, President Reagan was reelected in a historic landslide, winning a stunning 49 out of 50 states over his competent and experienced opponent, the former Vice President Walter Mondale.

How different it must be for children growing up in America today. Their childhood political memories will be of a nation of people who despise each other — united only by the feeling that our country is in decline — so deeply divided by partisanship that a landslide election like 1984 would be unthinkable.