Tuesday, May 28, 2024

FreedomWorks Closes Its Doors

After more than 20 years, we’ve decided to wind down our operations at FreedomWorks. Why? We live in an era of mass demographic, economic, and political change. The harsh reality is that our model became outdated, and we could no longer reach beyond the conservative base of the Republican Party.

We are at the start of a new realignment in American politics, driven by a generational shift in power from the baby boomers (ages 60-78) to the millennials (ages 30-44) and Gen Z (those born in the late 1990s to 2010).

Since the early 1980s, the parameters of the policy debate in the United States have been dominated by the Reagan-era consensus that supported individual liberty and free enterprise. That consensus is coming to an end. In the next few election cycles, a new sentiment will be formed. This will determine the course of American political discourse and policy for a generation.

The current realignment is unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed. Instead of a new base for the Republican and Democratic parties, the millennials and Generation Z overwhelmingly identify as independents. Driving this independent identity is a desire for policy solutions, not partisan politics.

Our research indicates that a broadly libertarian policy agenda based on a “live and let live” approach to social issues and greater economic choice reaches the voters that will decide the future. They are, generally speaking, socially tolerant and fiscally responsible. These values do not represent the right or left today, but rather the center of the political spectrum.

Rhetoric that works to motivate a party’s base does not work on this decisive swing independent voter. You can stand on principle yet still find compromise. Americans are generally good people, regardless of their political affiliation. We are not going to have a civil war or a “national divorce.” We can agree to disagree and still share a beer.

Thomas Sowell once wrote, “There are no solutions. There are only tradeoffs.” Rather than chasing partisan utopias that are ungrounded in political realities, independents want to see practical improvements to our most pressing problems, such as what to do about the affordability crisis with housing and grocery bills.

The window is open now over the next few election cycles to build a community for the politically homeless that could break the stalemate in Congress and pull power back from the executive and regulatory branches. Our country is not designed for unaccountable elites to decide policy. An imperial presidency with governance through executive order is not a substitute for our constitutional system.

Every election cycle, 435 members of the House of Representatives come up for reelection. But with gerrymandering, only 30 races are actually in play to determine who controls Congress. These districts are overwhelmingly suburban, and the plurality of these voters are independents. The Senate and even the White House will be decided on how these independents vote in places like Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

The old model was to max out your base and win just enough independents. The new model in the swing districts is the opposite – win the independent vote and take the partisans for granted.

This gets to the heart of the challenge at FreedomWorks and why we are shutting our doors. We know that these young voters agree with so many of our classical (small “l”) liberal values. But our brand is closely identified with the GOP. And in the Republican Party’s current configuration, FreedomWorks – even with the best of intentions – lacks the credibility to have a dialogue with them.

Whichever presidential candidate survives what will most likely be a low-turnout 2024 election will be paralyzed by ideological divisiveness and gridlock. The winner will likely start his second term as the most unpopular president in history. Washington will continue to ignore the challenges our nation faces, and the people will continue to sour on their political leaders.

We are already seeing the effects of our national debt in higher mortgage rates. In less than 10 years, the United States will grow from $35 trillion to over $50 trillion in debt. Both parties caused this. Independents know it, too. Repeating the economic malaise of the late 1970s is looking increasingly likely.

The 2024 election will be remembered as a watershed moment. It’s a transition election; the last one dominated by the baby boomer generation.

Voters from the emerging demographics are fundamentally different from past generations when it comes to brand and party loyalty. Those who argue these voters will return to the traditional political spectrum of  Democrat vs Republican of the past are simply wrong.

Old rules, such as talking about entitlement reform as the “third rail” are outdated. One recent poll showed that 76% of millennials want to reform Social Security, a program that millions of seniors depend on but is also a primary driver of our growing debt. Yet Washington continues to simply ignore the problem at hand. We have an opportunity to do things differently.

These voters want action and political courage. They want common-sense solutions. They want limited, modernized, and effective government. And they want to be engaged as individuals, to be free to make the choices that are best for themselves, their families, and their communities.

There is only one force strong enough to disrupt Washington and bring about this necessary change: outside grassroots citizens who vote to support a new breed of principled legislator who can move a bold agenda forward. The independent center is fiscally responsible and socially tolerant. If they can be organized, they are the most powerful electoral bloc in American politics because they alone determine the balance of Congress.

The aim should not be to win an election or two, but to define the legislative agenda for the next generation. It’s with fond memories and pride in work accomplished that we say goodbye to FreedomWorks as an institution. We thank the staff, donors, board members, and most importantly the activist community we had the privilege to serve.

The politically homeless will find a home someday and make their grassroots power known. That is what is needed to disrupt Washington, and it should give us all hope that our best days are still ahead.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.