Charlie Kirk and other young conservatives are increasingly embracing identity politics

Once a proponent of traditional libertarian dogma about free markets, Kirk is trying to expand Trump's identity approach
Charlie Kirk speaking with attendees at the Culture War tour at Antelope Gymnasium at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

As Republicans’ political fortunes have fallen and as white nationalism among young Republicans has increased, the rhetoric of Charlie Kirk, founder and president of Turning Point USA, in recent years has turned to Christian nationalism.

The early beliefs of Turning Point USA — about small government, economic freedom, and free speech — are still there. But they have been colored by a patriotic religion that puts him in his opinion on the “right” side of a massively important culture war.

This war is not merely for the hearts and minds of people. To paraphrase President Joe Biden, it is also for the soul of America. Kirk is inching more and more toward a perpetually divided America unwillingly to grant the “other side” not merely respect but legitimacy as Americans.

The best example of that is Kirk’s speech at Missouri State University on March 24, 2021. In it, he reaffirms his belief in economic development and entrepreneurship. But he rhetorically reimagines a long used phrase concerning an economic debate to draw new lines in his culture war.

Kirk chides international corporations based in America who seemingly put “profits over patriotism,” a phrase long used by many on both sides of the political spectrum to decry the ways these companies keep their profits off-shore or abroad to avoid paying US taxes on them. See herehere, and here.

But Kirk revises that phrase and applies it to GOP governors inviting California tech firms into their states for job creation.

And this application steps Kirk closer and closer to civil war rhetoric. He took another step in this direction when he implied in a recent editorial for Human Events about the Jan. 6 insurrection that the “left” was trying to stop a conservative “insurrection” based in liberty.

Kirk wrote in that editorial: “Despite the risk, [conservatives] cannot refuse the call to action. If we don’t find a way to stop this now, history tells us that from this point forward, things get really, really bad.”

I wrote on Twitter: “Add in K’s fear mongering on voting & guns & u have a rebellion brewing.”

Kirk steps closer to the war part of the culture war in the Missouri State speech when he speaks about internal migration in the US during 2020.

At about 11 minutes in, he offers comments on the movement of US residents during 2020.

“We have seen the greatest movement of people between states in the last year,” Kirk says, comparing that to “the 1860s or 1870s right after the Civil War.”

I couldn’t find evidence comparing 2020 migration to that era.

But the Brookings Institute notes in a January article that “in the year before COVID-19 swept the country, a smaller share (9.3%) of Americans changed residence than in any year since 1947, when the Census Bureau first started collecting annual migration statistics.”

In his Missouri State speech, Kirk claimed in the last year “10 million people changed their residence.”

This seems close to a report by the National Association of Realtors from December 2020 that said 8.9 million people relocated since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report stated: “As of October, 8.93 million people relocated since the pandemic started. This is an increase of nearly 94,000 people changing the address of their residence compared to 8.84 million in 2019 during the same period (March through October). Breaking down the data by month, most moves during the pandemic occurred in March, with 1.23 million people relocating compared to 1.00 million a year earlier.”

The report added:

“New Jersey, South Carolina and Maryland were the winners with the highest migration gains across the country. Specifically, in New Jersey, 2,032 more people moved to the state compared to those who left. In contrast, New York, Texas and the District of Columbia were the states losing the most people during the pandemic. In New York, 2,847 more people moved out from the state compared to those who moved in. However, keep in mind that the data is not a full year comparison. A 12-month comparison will be a better read about the true migratory trends. For example, we know that Texas always draw more new residents to the state every year, but the period covered is over several hot summer months where Texans may go elsewhere to escape the heat, and therefore shows a net negative trend in the data set.”

I quote at length here to get details on New York and Texas.

Kirk claimed that there was a migration from California, New York and Illinois, his state of birth. [While he moved to Florida, he mainly spends his time in Arizona where TPUSA has its headquarters.]

There is good evidence for his claim. The NAR notes New York has been losing population.

survey by North American Moving Lines shows “Illinois, New York, and New Jersey are the three states with the most outbound moves” during 2020. California was fourth.

survey by United Van Lines mirrored that: “New York (67%), Illinois (67%), Connecticut (63%) and California (59%) were among the states experiencing the largest exoduses.”

But Kirk claimed people were moving from these states due to the effects of bad policy decisions.

There is limited evidence of that claim.

CNN recently profiled people moving from California to Texas due to Covid restrictions in former. They claimed they want more “freedom.”  

A Bloomberg News report from September stated:

“Several surveys have found that the great majority of people who did move during the first months of the pandemic did so for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus. In one such survey of 1,300 individuals conducted by Hire A Helper, just 15% said they had relocated because of Covid-19. Out of these pandemic-induced migrations, 37% of respondents said they moved because they could not afford current housing due to a Covid-related income loss. Thirty-three percent of the respondents said that they moved to shelter in place with friends or family, and 24% that they didn’t feel safe where they were.”

Even more evidence debunks Kirk’s ideological reasons for moving. Bloomberg notes a detail from the United Van Lines survey: “The company found that the top destinations for people leaving these cities were other large metropolitan areas. Topping the list of destinations for people leaving San Francisco between May and August 2020 were the Seattle, Austin and Chicago metropolitan areas. (For context, during the same period in 2019, the top destinations for people moving out of San Francisco were New York City, Seattle and Boston.)… New Yorkers were most likely to move to the Los Angeles, Atlanta and Tampa metropolitan areas between May and August 2020. Last year, during the same period, their top destinations were Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.”

So while many are moving from the West Coast or NYC to the South, it is not necessarily to get away from municipal stress.

Kirk got specific with Illinois. He said people move from Illinois due to “high taxes, corruption, highest property taxes, and rising crime.”

Illinois does have the highest effective tax rate, according to one study. It certainly has had more than its share of political corruption. It also ranks high in property taxes. But like many places around the nation, Illinois has seen crime decrease in recent years. It was 19th in 2019.

In 2020 certain crimes rose nationally. And in certain places. For example after years of decline, murders in Chicago spiked in 2020.

Then Kirk moves to the “values” of those moving.

He suggests that people moving from large blue states like California, Illinois, and New York are changing the states they are moving to. He said this is happening in Georgia, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. The first two were of course “flipped” in the 2020 election from red to blue.

He specifically argued those moving from these blue states to more red states should not for example “try to turn Missouri into Illinois.” (12:30)

He got even more specific when he spoke about his dislike of GOP governors having ribbon cutting ceremonies with California tech firms. He imagines a tech firm bringing 3,000 people to Texas: “What do you think they’re going to do? They are going to bring their values with them. They’re going to bring their ideas with them.”

Then Kirk qualified that with the claim: He wants “economic development” and “jobs,” but “I also think that there’s such differences in the way that we view the basic American value system…”

He trails off onto international companies, but sums up his claim by stating that for far too long conservatives have “focused on profits and not enough on patriotism.” [14 mins]

It is clear enough that Kirk is implying that those moving from the three large blue states don’t share with him this “basic American value system.”

He then calls “immoral” those who could come into Texas or Missouri or Florida from these states and try to change their new state. If you try to change the state you move to, “you’re then imposing your views on someone who can’t move and didn’t move.”

I can’t think of a more anti-democratic statement from Kirk than this. Kirk wants “blue state” residents to stop moving to Georgia or Arizona, and if they don’t, he wants them to stop involving themselves in the political process because that is changing the culture of those states.

It is confusing though because Kirk keeps using “you” to a crowd of [mainly] his supporters and how some of them might move. But he also notes that some in the crowd might be “second or third generation” Missourians and share Missouri’s values like “respecting the Second Amendment.”

So in theory these people could move to another state and Kirk would tell them the same as he is telling the anonymous “blue state” resident who is moving to states that share in Kirk’s value system.

Kirk’s logic might apply to an intra-state move from the city to the suburbs. Or from the suburbs to a rural area. One should not try to change conservatives areas because the people there can’t move to get away from you. If they could move, then perhaps change is allowed. I hear whispers of outside agitators.

The argument that political activity by new residents is imposing their beliefs on people who don’t want to or can’t move is obviously preposterous.

But it is preposterous for one specific reason: it seems to go against Kirk’s own economic ideology. Kirk is decrying those with the economic capability to move while noting they are in his mind likely leaving for more economic freedom. Yet he stands on the side of those who don’t have this economic freedom who in his mind want to merely keep their state’s values from change.

The generalization about states is another preposterous element. California has conservatives. And Texas had liberals long before tech companies moved to Austin.

But this is very similar to the populism espoused by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley who has decried a “cosmopolitan elite.” Kirk attacks “corporatism” in this speech though he has also attacked “globalists” before.

These isms and ists are targets for conservative hate, targets for their action.

But most importantly, the value divide here described by Kirk is pushed to the point of anti-democratic tyranny. Kirk argues that some people don’t have American values and they should stop trying to spread them.

Kirk makes a thin application of this ideology to international immigration. He implies the US should not admit as immigrants those who don’t share the English language with Americans. Kirk’s logic is that while “free speech” is important, what use is it if you can’t speak the same language? [15:50]

He extends this logic to values. What is the point of America if people who live here don’t share its values? His values, of course. And so why should those who don’t share his values be given free speech? It will only further change — i.e. weaken/destroy — America.

Kirk is fighting a culture war as a Christian nationalist. A culture war can lead to actual violence. See January 6th.