What is your current position?
I am the senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute
What inspired you to choose this career path?
I sort of fell into politics as an undergraduate with an interest in history, ideas, and a sort of impatient curiosity about how the world works and why. I had a vague notion of going to law school, but I started working on Capitol Hill right out of undergrad and never looked back. I have never once been bored.
What are you currently working on?
I work on all kinds of things day-to-day, but for the last two years I have been particularly focused on addressing the unprecedented control that Big Tech has over various aspects of our lives. More broadly, that has evolved into helping conservatives develop a coherent response to the threat of corporate power. For a long time, conservatives have exclusively focused on big government as posing the greatest threat to individual liberty. But as I see it, concentrated corporate power at scale can be an equal threat, particularly when one political ideology outsources censorship to massive private actors. As Barry Goldwater used to say, “The enemy of freedom is unrestrained power, and the champions of freedom will fight against the concentration of power wherever they find it.”
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
So many people I respect and have learned from throughout the years have been in Claremont’s orbit in some shape or form.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
One of my favorite parts about my Lincoln fellowship was the after-hours discussion that was really kind of limitless. I’m always somewhat careful not to inundate my social activities with too much discussion of politics or political ideas and theories, but at Claremont, the discussion never stopped. Literally. My 2020 Lincoln class is still on an active group text!
There are all sorts of educational programs out there for current and rising conservative professionals. What do you think makes the Claremont Institute’s Fellowships unique?
Claremont has a knack for bringing together groups of smart people at the right times in their lives. For me, Lincoln was the perfect mid-career moment of intellectuals and practitioners, and our personalities, interests, and skill sets really played off one another.
Who would it be, why, and what would you discuss, if you could have a conversation with an American Founder, or any great thinker?
Sen. Robert Taft. Taft was a conservative whose politics, in my estimation, represent a coherence of politics, policy, and principle that the modern Republican party currently lacks. Taft’s conservatism emphasized the rule of law, rejected progressivism, and accepted the need for limited government action (as opposed to no government action at all), particularly to support the vulnerable. He believed in a humane economy founded upon “Christian moral principles and upon the American historical experience.”
Russell Kirk described Taft’s approach as one that stood against “ideology, concentrated power, grandiose political schemes…[and] economic folly.” I think he’d have a lot to offer conservatives in our current moment.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
There is no Lincoln without George Washington. Washington is often lauded for his restraint and deference to the principle. And it has become fashionable within certain segments of conservatism to note that restraint as a means of saying “we must fight, but with one hand tied behind our back.” Washington didn’t fight that way. In fact, there was nothing at all restrained about Washington leading his troops across the Delaware to attack the Hessians – on Christmas. Washington fought like hell against the forces who would kill the then-nascent American way of life. That ferocious spirit in defense of America is our birthright.
What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country and why?
Jefferson’s wine collection! Or the bottle of Madeira that was supposedly used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I’m a trained sommelier in addition to my political pursuits, and one of the things that drew me to wine was its prominence in history, cultural traditions, and politics.
Looking back on history, in which one of the original 13 colonies would you have wanted to live and why?
Virginia. If only to be present at the creation when Jefferson started his vineyards at Monticello.
What qualities do you believe will make outstanding statesmen/women in this century?
A spine of steel, cloaked in diplomacy, finessed with a mastery of negotiation. Conservatives need courageous leaders like never before; people who will not bend to the avalanche of personal destruction that comes from the left. We also need happy warriors who can see and celebrate our shared humanity, build coalitions, and engage in the shrewd negotiation that was once the hallmark of great leaders, rather than the exception.
What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
The cartel power of Big Tech, big media, and big government acting cooperatively to silence dissent and criticism, limit access to the free market, and control the flow and availability of information in America. A democratic self-government – let alone a free people – cannot sustain that kind of assault.
What do you believe has led to our established culture redefining itself in the 21st Century?
Americans have always had different and diverse beliefs, but we’ve shared the same ideas that rooted our culture: a recognition or belief in a transcendent moral order, a necessary but generally limited relationship with the government, and a shared sense of responsibility toward and pride in America’s promise. Now, we can’t agree on any of it – if America is a nation, or merely an “idea;” or even if our founding was inherently good or inherently evil. Take this breakdown of our shared consensus and beliefs about our country and add to it the increasing cultural totalitarianism of the left which demands that you adhere to their ideology or be banished from polite society, and you don’t have “redefinition,” you have disintegration.
Do you believe we are slowly becoming a country of political will or still a nation of law and order at the government level?
We are still a nation of laws, though that is under grave threat. The politicization of the FBI and even the intelligence gathering agencies have diminished collective faith in our institutions. No one trusts politicians, but Americans have more or less generally trusted the system to be objectively and impartially enforced. That trust is eroding to dangerously low levels, particularly as powerful figures who weaponize our justice and law enforcement systems against their political opponents escape any measure of accountability.
What are your thoughts on the voting processes/discrepancies in the 2020 Presidential election?
I think in a pandemic year where massive changes to our elections took place, largely through mail-in balloting, there were always going to be uncertainties, anomalies, and mistakes. That said, there is nothing more central to the social consensus than faith in elections. Election integrity reforms that make voting easy, transparently verifiable, safe, and accountable are good things, in my view. Massively overhauling our national election system to make it easier to cheat, as many Democrats are proposing, will have the opposite effect.
What regime do you follow when writing something that requires a great deal of research and thought?
There is only one right answer to this if you, like me, are a millennial: turn off your phone (and your email notifications).
Do you believe the United States will retain a strong, dynamic military given the current political climate? Why?
I believe it is possible to maintain a strong, dynamic military that isn’t fighting endless wars or democracy building overseas. If Biden can follow through on Trump’s plan to pull the last remaining U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, our military will finally be able focus on the quick strike, narrowly tailored missions that should characterize our military engagement.
What book, speech, or movie has left a lasting impression with you and why?
Everyone always thinks I’m being tongue-in-cheek when I say this, but I am completely serious. If you want to understand how Congress works, skip the complex books about parliamentary procedure, and just watch Tina Fey’s Mean Girls.
What books are you currently reading?
I just finished Matt Stoller’s book on the history of monopolies in America, Goliath, and Michael Lind’s The New Class War. I just started an out-of-print biography of Sam Rayburn, the longest serving Speaker of the House.
Do you have a favorite quote? Why does it resonate with you?
I love quotes. I love reading old speeches. I especially love poetry – T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, and Walt Whitman. But lately, one quote has been resonating with me, from Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he stood on the floor of the United Nations, as America’s ambassador, speaking for his country: “Am I embarrassed to speak for a less than perfect democracy? Not one bit. Find me a better one. Do I suppose there are societies which are free of sin? No, I don’t. Do I think ours is, on balance, incomparably the most hopeful set of human relations the world has? Yes, I do.”
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
I grew up in a small rural town of around 4,000 people on the edge of upstate New York, not far from the Canadian border. I didn’t appreciate this as a kid, but looking back, I admire tremendously the highly trained doctors and lawyers who came to serve in our rural community. Few people have the disposition, tenacity, or genuine heart to succeed in that environment. Also I cannot mention upstate New York without noting that no one throws a tailgate quite like the Bills Mafia.
What would you discuss, if you could have a conversation with Thomas Jefferson regarding his knowledge and love of wine? Would you agree with him that “In nothing have the habits of the palate more decisive influence than in our relish of wines.”?
Jefferson was a wealth of wine knowledge. I’d love to hear about his wine tours of France, his collection of French champagne, and maybe getting him to share one of his legendary bottles of early Chateau Haut-Brion.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Hopefully still gratefully scribbling my verse in the powerful play. That’s a hat tip to Whitman from Leaves of Grass: “That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”