The third annual National Conservatism conference kicked off Sunday in Miami, Florida, bringing together a who’s who of figures associated with the so-called “New Right.” Topics of discussion included how to combat the rise of China, how to fight back against gender ideology, and, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation’s David Azerrad, how to resist the “blackpill” of living in a country in which “the elite is corrupt and so are the people”.
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But the headliners were names that will be familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with current events — billionaire investor Peter Thiel and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose 2024 presidential ambitions are the worst-kept secret in American politics.
Thiel opened the conference with what, considering the circumstances, amounted to a contrarian speech. The topic of his address was California, which in recent years has become a standard conservative punching bag. But Thiel’s diagnosis of the problem was different. In his view, the main problem with California is that, like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, it is the victim of a “resource curse”. That is, the wealth generated from California’s tech sector is so tremendous that it ends up distorting the state’s entire political economy. “Wokeness”, he posited, plays the same role as Wahabbism in the similarly afflicted Saudi Arabia. There is, of course, a minority — “maybe 20%” of true believers — but mostly it is a sort of lip service that Machiavellian elites pay to a system of values that allows them to keep the whole corrupt machine running.
The problem with the Democratic Party, Thiel argued, is that it is effectively trapped in the California model — a fabulously wealthy and productive oligarchy on top, public-sector bureacurats in the middle, and a feral underclass dependent on government transfers on the bottom. But that model can’t go national — there isn’t enough money in the tech sector to go around.
Thiel also issued a word of warning to Republicans. The current GOP, he said, is stuck in a pure “nihilistic negation” of the Democrats’ California model — railing against wokeness, urban crime, and faeces on the streets of San Francisco, without even attempting to offer a positive model to counter it. Even red state success stories like Texas and Florida, he noted, have seen speculative bonanzas in real estate and permanently rising housing prices in cities like Austin and Miami, suggesting that neither Greg Abbott nor Ron DeSantis have figured out a truly sustainable model for middle class prosperity.
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The billionaire’s remarks were a bit cryptic, and hung over the remainder of Day 1, which in other respects felt like a full-on rally for DeSantis’s expected 2024 presidential campaign. Indeed, DeSantis’s speech, which closed proceedings on Sunday evening, brought the house down.
The governor, looking confident behind the lectern, spent nearly an hour running through his big themes of the last two years — fighting the public health bureaucrats over lockdowns and school shutdowns, passing laws against woke indoctrination in schools and workplaces, and going to war with Disney over what he described as the company’s plans to push gender ideology on Florida’s children. When he reached the climax of his speech — “Disney is no longer going to have its own government — the room erupted in a standing ovation.
DeSantis, if today is any indication, has won over the nationalist-populist intellectual sorts that have flocked to today’s conference. But if Thiel’s remarks are any indication, America’s most interesting billionaire is after bigger game.
Park MacDougald is a commissioning editor (US) for UnHerd. This article was originally published on UnHerd.