Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

The Right lacks might

Conservatives should take a page from the DeSantis playbook

It’s often remarked that young people become more conservative (or more accurately, Conservative) when they get older and gain “life experience”. This is particularly true in Britain, as Winston Churchill put it:

If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart, and if you are not a conservative when old, you have no brain.

This turn of phrase is less true in Europe where right-wing political parties actually make appeals to the youth, often having outright youth wings complete with funding, magazines and events. Regardless, it’s a useful fiction for the Conservative party that they are the logical endpoint of a life well lived, once the utopianism of youth has been shaved away. Whilst useful fictions are useful, they are still fiction.

A well-oiled machine exists to launch legal challenges

If Conservatism is the product of confronting reality, it seems strange that the (80-seat majority) Conservative government doesn’t attempt to create Conservatives by forcing confrontations with reality. Blair did the reverse with “education, education, education”, creating a generation of people who would either succeed due to getting a qualification, be in debt due to getting a qualification, or come out neutral on-balance. All three scenarios are good for the Labour party. If you succeed due to its policy, you’re more inclined to vote for them. If you’re in debt due to its policy, it will promise to relieve you of that debt. If you see no overall change due to its policy, you still subjected yourself to one of the most left-wing environments in Britain today. Not to mention that by making a degree commonplace, it became necessary to have one to become employed, forcing those who were not even interested in university to attend and submerge themselves in the environment as well. Blair did what smart politicians do, crafting a policy that would lead people to being in some way indebted to, or desiring, Labour policies.

Rather than “life experience” being what makes Conservatives, it’d be more accurate to say that imposing (and relieving) costs is what makes people shift their political opinions. Firstly, this answers the difference in the political views of the youth in Britain and in Europe. Secondly, it emphasises the importance of imposing costs upon political opponents for decisions and moves that they make. 

The left in Britain understand this well, and it has constructed a vast apparatus of NGOs, charities and legislative groundwork to do so. Take the Rwanda deal, for example. From the moment it was announced, NGOs moved to raise funds and challenge the deal. One NGO calling for the Rwanda plan to be scrapped was the Refugee Council, the recipient of £6.96m (55.23 per cent of its total income) in government contracts and grants. From there, Care4Calais set up a legal fund on CrowdJustice, a website dedicated to crowdfunding social justice causes. This was quickly promulgated via social media until it reached the figure of £122,820. From inception to execution, there exists a well-oiled machine to launch legal challenges to anything that does not conform to the ideology of this network of NGOs.

This is what it means to impose costs: it means to make every step of the way difficult for your political opponents, and as easy as possible for political allies to execute their beliefs. People becoming more right-wing as they grow older is more easily attributed to the Conservative party trailing the Labour party by 10 years, forcing former leftists to join the party, as the cost of voting for something too left wing even for them grows higher and higher, and the cost of joining a party that takes up their views grows lower and lower.

What could a Conservative party that seeks to impose costs even do? We can see a success story blooming in America in real-time. For a long time, America suffered worse illegal immigration than we do today — and for a long time, Americans attempted to remedy this by conventional means. California’s Proposition 187 is a quintessential example of this. The proposition stated that illegal immigrants would not receive access to taxpayer-funded services. This passed democratically by 58.93 per cent to 41.07 per cent, a sizeable margin. Yet the federal district court marked it unconstitutional, and four years later a Democrat governor halted state appeals of the ruling.

DeSantis will have to face down a network of activists

Many Republicans today are not so naïve. They understand that what happened in California will happen in Texas should they attempt to go through the normal channels of government. Instead, Governor Greg Abbot sends hundreds of illegal immigrants right outside Kamala Harris’ home, or even into places like New York City. This is a cheaper and more efficient way to fight illegal immigration in America. Actually enforcing the border will get you into legal trouble with the federal government which is nominally meant to protect it, and keeping them in the state means taking the cost on yourself. Not to mention that many of these illegal immigrants, once nationalised, will vote Democrat. By sending them to Democratic areas, their electoral effect is negated, but a large economic, cultural and political cost is imposed on the opposition. These policies are by no means a permanent solution; they send illegal migrants further into the US and make them much more difficult to remove — but these policies do put the cost, both financial and political, onto those who desire illegal migration to begin with. They provide real, concrete evidence of how those individuals support illegal migration only in the abstract.

For example, Mayor Eric Adams, who declared New York a sanctuary city, now openly complains of the cost illegal immigration places on communities. One of two things is true: he knew of the cost of illegal immigration beforehand, and he was satisfied as long as he did not bear the cost of it. Or he did not know of the cost of illegal immigration, and he would only listen once the cost was imposed upon him. Either way, the conclusion is the same: the notion that debate and free discussion alone will convince people of things is nonsense.

The question is, what happens now? Whilst the swift removal of the migrants in Martha’s Vineyard made plain people’s real feelings about immigration, the trade-off will come in the escalation that follows. As quickly as they were removed, the migrants were given attorneys from (what else?) an NGO. Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) have brought a legal claim against the state of Florida and Ron DeSantis. America, like the UK, has its own network of NGOs that push towards left-wing ends, and it’s this network of activists that DeSantis will have to face down if he wants to impose costs effectively.

Unlike DeSantis, who has in recent years embraced the power of the lawfare in politics with his “Stop W.O.K.E (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees)” Act — his opposition is far more well-versed in funding, lobbying, campaigning and ultimately enforcing politics via the courtroom. Whilst Stop W.O.K.E was prevented from being enacted by judges, his other attempts to shape the education system through law have been more effective. However, the events around Martha’s Vineyard are different. Before, DeSantis acted and legislated within his own state, and he could rely upon that distinction. Now, DeSantis is making it clear that this is not just the way Florida ought to be governed, but America.

The legal battle that’s about to come out of the events surrounding Martha’s Vineyard will demonstrate how costs are imposed in America, and how politics shift in response to that. If DeSantis loses his gamble, he will suffer the financial costs of the lawsuit and the increased scrutiny around migrants arriving in Florida, as well as upsetting his local Venezuelan constituents. Should he win, he will have composed a blueprint for the right on how to seize and wield power to impose costs upon the political competition, and how to use that power to fight back.

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