Our place in the world is being challenged. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Eastern Europe challenges the free world order. On the American political right, it is time we reject lingering isolationist and nationalist tendencies, and step up for freedom at home and abroad.
Last week, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual meeting that once featured serious debate, speakers struggled to adapt their culture war talking points as Russia invaded Ukraine. Former President Trump continued to praise the wisdom and cunning of the Russian dictator. One speaker, Candace Owens, has openly sided with Vladimir Putin.
CPAC, where thousands in Orlando paid $300 to hear leaders excuse Russian aggression, shows how some leaders’ nationalist and isolationist tendencies have corrupted the conservative movement. In Washington, where hundreds of conservatives from 40 states paid $35 to rally around principles instead of grievances, we were paving another way. While we had a smaller audience, a smaller budget and were streamed on Fox Nation instead of Fox News, radical paradigm shifts often begin small.
A few people in a small room ignite movements before they catch fire. A handful of pub-goers in Tun Tavern in 1775 gave life to one the finest fighting organizations the world has ever seen in my beloved Marine Corps, just two blocks down from where the Continental Congress formed with 56 folks in Carpenters’ Hall. Small gatherings around impassioned causes, bringing together an array of viewpoints united around a critical priority, change the world. It starts with ideas, then passion, organization and action.
In 2019, small gatherings around impassioned ideas started a new conservative revolution. Mostly small government conservatives dismayed with the nationalist and authoritarian direction of the GOP, we met first to commiserate. In Austin, Jennifer Waisath Harris, a long-time Republican communications strategist, assembled a few of us around drinks in a gallery. Then we met to organize. Heath Mayo, a young Texan lawyer and founder of Principles First, took to the wind around the country and brought a few people together in rooms from Boston to Los Angeles to crystallize the principles we were uniting around. In 2020, the diaspora of disaffected conservatives came together in Washington and began to organize.
Local chapters and connections began forming. Prominent leaders like Bill Kristol began to throw their weight behind the organization and the momentum carried us to the summit this past weekend in Washington.
At our conference, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R-GA) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) electrified the crowd making the case for principled conservative leaders to rise up and lead. Lt. Col. (Ret) Alexander Vindman and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) called for U.S. leadership and support for Ukraine during a time when we can choose to keep the freedom lamp lit or let Vladimir Putin extinguish the light of freedom in Ukraine.
Halfway across the world, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and a host of Ukrainian citizens are showing the world what a principled stand looks like. They are fighting for their families’ safety, their homes and for their freedom in a way which makes our American grievances look small. Their passionate defense inspires us to remember our fortunate place in this world where the initial small gathering in Philadelphia in 1774 birthed a country where our life, liberty and desired pursuits are defended and secured.
There are two conservative sides to choose from. At Principles First, we side with a free, western-aligned Ukraine. Will we protect self-determination and a robust education as the building blocks of a free society, or will we cancel the ideas and books we find troubling? At Principles First we side with freedom. Will we accept grift and corruption as the cost of doing business in American politics or will we build a coalition of democracy defenders to restore trust and integrity? At Principles First, of course, we choose principles.
The Continental Congress met for another 15 years after 1774 before our Constitution was signed. Change does not happen overnight. It takes work. It takes time. Most importantly, it takes citizens who put the national interest above their own and join us in our effort to conserve our experiment in self-governance for another 245 years.
Justin Pitcock, a US Marine Corps veteran and member of the principled conservative organization, Principles First, is a small business owner in Texas.