Ben Shapiro at Politicon 2018
Rick Polk/Getty Images for Politicon


With a Unifying Message, Conservatives Are Stronger Than Ever

About two weeks before the midterms, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Ben Shapiro was about to give an hour-long keynote address. It was the second day of Politicon, a relatively new palooza of political punditry that bills itself as a “non-partisan ‘Unconventional Political Convention’ that brings Republicans, Democrats, and politicos of every stripe under one roof to spar, promote, shit-post, and trade business cards. In reality, it is a political Comic-Con.

This year was Politicon’s fourth, and Shapiro’s speech, I surmised, would likely consist of a rhetorical feast designed to feed his parishioners every gustatory pleasure of his intellectual fast food, each declaration designed to either “own the libs” or produce “liberal tears.” His declarations are similar to those which conservatives eagerly reprint on t-shirts and coffee mugs to mock the sort of bourgeois liberal who believes Prince Charming raped Sleeping Beauty in her sleep. Their marketing talents constitute what transgender Labour party candidate Eddie Izzard described earlier that Sunday as “better message discipline.”

Izzard’s comment reminded me of the fact that the liberal presence at Politicon 2018 consisted of a cadre of mostly bland personalities, uncommitted socialists, poorly prepared debaters and a serious deficit in cheeky merchandise. There was one “Ben Shapiro is Overrated” t-shirt, but it seemed to ironically favor Shapiro. This isn’t to say politics should be a consumerist enterprise of spectator sport idiocy. But at Politicon, if not here—where? This is where politics meets glossy advertising pitch-meetings on Madison Avenue. This is where Kathy Griffin, Clay Aiken and the cast of The West Wing get equal billing as Chris Christie, Carter Page and James Carville. This is where you oversell your politics as fashionably loud publicity stunts.
If MTV ever hosted a political awards show, it would be like Politicon, and Tomi Lahren or Ann Coulter would be Madonna from two different eras of Madonna. But here, under the spotlight of Hollywood, liberals committed the unforgivable sin of being boring in L.A. They tried, with one sanctimonious “I Really Do Care, Do U?” Army jacket that mocked the First Lady, which had a sales rack that looked as empty as a tea stand that had an RGB blend described as, “Truth, JusTeas, and the American Way.”

Nobody gave a shit. Politicon isn’t where you practice irony. This is where you test campaign strategies, play dirty, expose weaknesses and win over the plebs with a swing of the rhetorical blade. Liberalism failed in this regard. It failed so much that I worry about the future of our republic, which requires both sides to be viable in order to sustain itself.
Trump did this with marketing, not corruption—something the left refuses to learn from.
But as we approach the 2018 midterms—the peek of the resistance, theoretically—liberals still don’t have a clue how to sell their movement. Certainly not in debates or as fashion statements. In fact, it seems all the talented debaters are conservative. Conservatism at Politicon felt like a winning campaign that could breed converts at every stop; while liberalism felt lost, like Dukakis riding an Abrams tank with oversized helmet; or trying too hard, like Elizabeth Warren on a vision quest; or outmaneuvered, like the socialist who failed to convince Ann Coulter to debate him (I can't even remember his name). Yes, obscure liberals were begging to debate Coulter, who responded by ridiculing them with capitalistic cunning, “why can’t they find someone with just one New York Timesbest-seller?”
Today, with one day to go before the most important midterm election in recent history, there remains a growing enthusiasm gap on the left, with pall hanging over them since Brett Kavanaugh’s demoralizing win in Republicans v. #MeToo. Democrats first follow-up attack was to parade the DNA results of Warren—a quasi-racist strategy that failed to woo pretty much anyone. Even if there’s a referendum against Trumpism, which one suspects we might see, it certainly didn’t feel that way at Politicon, where reality may have been distorted.

Then again, this was Hollywood. But even today, conservatives are finding solidarity following a Supreme Court confirmation where the left’s resistance manifested in Alyssa Milano prepping her cauldron on television for Kavanaugh’s blood—which ended up being a crushing current of liberal tears. Again, this was a tiny sample of potential voters, but waiting in line for Shapiro’s keynote, I saw a family wearing Daily Wire T-shirts and MAGA hats and holding matching “Leftist Tears” mugs. I took a picture. I saw crowds of relentlessly vocal MAGA fan boys and MAGA family vacationers. It was tailgate party for these people. I don't think I saw a single identifiable liberal family or sports fan equivalent.
Trump’s party, it seems, has managed to turn politics into the spectacle of professional sports. The stars leading the way are guys like Tucker Carlson, Fox News’s leading man who still dresses confidently like a 1980s Ralph Lauren ad, who debated TYT’s sweaty majordomo, Cenk Uygur, in the finale of Politicon, when Uygur claimed that Trump won in 2016 partly by producing $5 billion dollars in free media. This exposed another weakness of the left: an inability to create free advertising outside the confines of the MSM (or produce camera-friendly debaters).

Trump did this with marketing, not corruption—something the left refuses to learn from. Trump did it by merchandising every inch of his being; first, with the inescapable Make America Great Again slogan, then the red hat, which metastasized as a meme, then a symbol of a grassroots economy of loyalists and Twitter trolls. From there an army organized promoting MAGA at every turn and dressing in MAGA apparel like urban youth in Supreme, successfully turning MAGA into a cultural status symbol rather than a campaign slogan. It was remarkable to see, the optics. We were in Los Angeles, and there were predominantly conservatives headlining a political convention and drawing the biggest crowds.

Inside, a micro-economy almost entirely fueled by the right, at a political convention organized by liberals who were most proud of their ability to lock in a wacky conversation between Michael Avanetti and Kathy Griffin at this year’s event. Here's the kicker: on site, Parkland survivor Cameron Kasky told me, “I don’t like Trump, but Kathy Griffin makes me want to vote for him.”
The fact that these two individuals are the left’s version of political rock stars worries me.
Hours after Shapiro’s keynote, I found myself in the same hall to watch Griffin and Avanetti, wherein the comedian and Stormy Daniels’s attorney did everything but articulate a purpose outside of wanting to “beat Trump.” Avenatti used his time to tell us that he’s a single-minded vessel designed to depose of Trump, but with no clear-cut post-Trump strategy, and that he’s willing to go “toe to toe” with his machismo. (In other words, he’s willing to become Trump in order to defeat him.) This is what the left has been reduced to. Avenatti is willing to abandon all decorum in order to gain power, which is self-destructive and corruptible, especially since the guy carries himself like a labor union boss who’s got his hand in “waste management” (wink, wink).

Also, if your only campaign pitch is that displacing Trump will fix every problem facing the country, you should skip the White House and submit your resume to CNN. He became even less presidential by sitting next to a plucky woman whose greatest innovation is writing new dick jokes, and who indiscriminately used the F-word in front of children and adults, referring to the White House press secretary as Sarah “Fuck-a-bee” Sanders.

The fact that these two individuals are the left’s version of political rock stars worries me heading into an election where I certainly do not want to see an unprecedented and blinding red wave. Nor do I want to see “useful idiots” like Griffin and Avenatti hand MAGA complete control by repelling voters, which will give this president more power (as his approval rating slowly ticks up), at a time when we need rational liberals and moderate conservatives in a political wrestling match against the faction of Trumpism. The only way to win is with a center-right outcome, with center-right candidates—not MAGA standing over the two opposing groups and collectively forcing them to scream uncle.

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