A few years ago, a friend passed along a warning from his mother, an attorney in the Bay Area who was worried about the upcoming election. Although a political liberal, she didn’t fear the Republicans, of course (not in San Francisco), only the candidates from the far left who were up for local offices such as district attorney.
“Soros is behind it all,” she told her son, and the candidates she had in mind came right out of the radical ranks.
It was the first I’d heard of Soros money reaching so far down to local levels. I took it as but one more episode in a long history of conservative dismay—not because it seemed that the tremulous fingers of Soros reached into everything, but because Republicans had nothing to block them. No point getting indignant over the machinations of the left, I thought, not after so many years of being outmaneuvered by them on the ground, in the culture spheres, in media, in corporate America (where leftists run human resources offices), in the academy, the public school system…
At that moment, as my friend described a fresh tactic underway, to complain about Big Left money going into small races would be whiny and fruitless.
The real question was this: Why are conservatives always outflanked and on defense and playing catch-up? Why can’t the right scheme and plot as cannily as the left? In 2018, Democrats in California allegedly used ballot harvesting to swing longstanding conservative districts, a brilliant move that should have launched a strong Republican counter-offensive, but by the evidence of 2020, Republicans learned nothing from it.
Their local efforts after losing the House in 2018 showed little advance, as far as I could see, and I can’t recall any commentators on the right taking their eyes off the races for offices in Washington, D.C., and insisting on pushing local gains. The riots of the summer showed, however, how important mayors and district attorneys are, while the poor performance of the Georgia secretary of state proves the impact lesser state offices can have on outcomes. It’s easy to mock Stacey Abrams, but does anyone doubt that she ran circles around Republicans all summer and fall?
The Soros strategy of hitting local races fits perfectly with the leftist playbook of institution-conversion by changes in personnel. It says: You don’t need to reform an institution to alter its values or philosophy or goals—just get the right people in place and the other transformations will follow. That goes for city councils, school boards, human rights commissions, election bodies, and so on. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that rules and norms hold those institutions to a firm course. They respect traditions and suspect the progressivist impulse to “evolve.”
But leftists don’t care. They do what they want, the past be damned. In 2004, while serving as mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom ordered the city clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even though it violated state law that defined marriage as a union of man and woman. That didn’t hurt him at all, obviously. It helped his career, and conservatives have had to sit back and stew. But then, what were their options?
If a regulation or policy or law exists, and the person appointed to uphold or apply it refuses to do so, what’re ya gonna do? Appealing to the courts is one choice, but that takes time and money. Appealing to public opinion takes longer, and the attention span of the electorate is short. It needs constant reinforcement.
Hence, the value of big money in local races. Once you have your candidate in place, the burden falls on conservatives, who are from thence onward in a reactive mode. Isn’t this the signal failure of the Trump administration? Not the wrong ideas or policies or messaging, just the wrong people. I don’t mean the Swamp, either. I mean the political appointments, the incapacity to secure the right individuals to do the job of implementing a genuine populist conservative agenda.
The Swamp did its reactionary work, to be sure, but compare how the incoming Trump people treated the Obama people to how the incoming Biden people handled the Trump officeholders. Trump’s personnel office left many Obama people in place for months (and often longer), but not Biden’s. The first was kid gloves, the second, “Pack up and get out—Now!”
With leftist money and strategy planting leftists into lower posts in states and cities across the nation, a Republican governor will have the same Swamp problem President Donald Trump faced every time. November 2016 was a conservative triumph at the top alone. It’s all too clear that a wider strategy is needed: a Soros network for the right.
Trump has the money and popularity to do it, the energy and charisma, too. Imagine a conservative blitzkrieg in Chicago targeting its hapless mayor—rallies, commercials, door-to-door campaigning nonstop, voter registration, entertainment, free food … all of it highlighting the incompetence of Democrat leaders, the pernicious identity politics, the ongoing violence. Bring to Chicagoans a tidal wave of publicity showcasing the utter lack of ethics in the Smollett case. Put the left on defense, get out in front of them, make them react, make them wonder what’s coming next.
This is the best thing that Trump can do at the present moment. November 2024 is a long time away, and besides, what makes anyone think that a second Trump administration would drain the Swamp any better than the first one did? We need smaller victories, lots of them. There are too many leftist hacks in offices of low visibility—try attending a school board meeting and listen to the conversation when social issues come up—but those figures often end up having a not-insignificant impact. Moreover, they got in the door not through their own meager political talents, but through a relentless machine that so far has met little resistance.
Remember, too, that the politics they espouse often doesn’t have the support of the majority of voters in the city or county. It’s the actions of leftist money that have clouded that divergence, and the actions of conservative money, copious and well-aimed, could clear the air.
This is low-hanging fruit, President Trump. The time is right, the woke left is estranging a growing number of Americans. Pick an upcoming race, any race, make the plunge, and let’s see what happens.
Mark Bauerlein is an emeritus professor of English at Emory University. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, the TLS, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.