Our president Saurabh Sharma discussed the emerging conservative realignment on the Manhattan Institute-hosted panel, 'Who's Right? Millennials, Gen Z, and the Future of American Conservatism' in Navy Yard, D.C. This is the transcript of that conversation.
Editor’s Note: Elliot Kaufman, letters editor of the Wall Street Journal, Alexandra DeSanctis, a staff writer for National Review, and Saurabh Sharma, the president of American Moment, joined City Journal associate editor Theodore Kupfer for a conversation on the future of the American Right. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and economy.
Teddy Kupfer: I want to start off by thinking a bit about the title of this event, which is “Who’s Right?” The question is an allusion to the tendencies that occupy the right side of the political spectrum: social conservatives and libertarians, neo-conservatives and populists, RINOs and reactionaries. But more controversially, the question could be construed to imply that some of these tendencies may be more authentically conservative than others, or that certain views should take priority in a conservative coalition.
These divisions certainly exist, and we will discuss them as the panel proceeds. But I wonder if they might conceal an underlying unity. Take the issues of rising crime, deteriorating public order, public-health overreach, and the long march of progressivism through the institutions. It’s reasonable to assume that you three are all concerned by these trends. My first question is: Do you think that these areas of agreement can form the basis for conservative politics in the year 2022?
Alexandra DeSanctis: I think that they can. I tend to think that the areas where conservatives agree are a lot more important than where we disagree, when it comes to whom we elect, at least. What they do once they’re in office is not necessarily as simple. But I would point to the campaign of Glenn Youngkin, in particular, as evidence that the things we agree on are more important, because what the Left is doing right now troubles conservatives a lot more than what we ought to do in response.
The Left is going particularly crazy. They’re pushing for things that are deeply unpopular, as Youngkin and the success of his campaign showed. Even though conservatives might disagree a bit about what we should do in response, if we’re in charge we know that pushing back against the Left is more important than quibbling over where we might disagree. I suppose the problems we’ve had with Donald Trump might dispute that a little bit. But for the most part, responding to the Left is the most important thing. And we can do that without fighting over where we disagree.
Saurabh Sharma: I think that if you take the question that you posed very narrowly—In 2022, what should the Right be running on? Ending the disorder in our cities, the racialization of public education, and the general overreach of the Left—that is perfectly fine. But in any other time horizon, it is wholly insufficient. If all the Right can muster in the United States is the idea that after the Left wins decades of victories, we’ll marshal the tiniest response to slow them down a little bit, that’s not a governing agenda. Eventually, permanent political victories or something that looks close to permanent political victories are very possible on the left of center. I look for more than just a reactive agenda that can be held by the Right—one that has something to offer to the American people beyond “we’re not those crazy people over there.”