Politics & Policy

A Millennial Activist Leads Disaffected Democrats Out of the Wilderness

Supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton react as they watch results at the election night rally in New York, November 8, 2016. (Adrees Latif/REUTERS)
Brandon Straka’s viral #walkaway campaign has the potential to reshape American politics.

Recently, I sat down for breakfast with the most interesting, dynamic, and disruptive young person I’ve met in American politics in quite a few years: Brandon Straka, the charismatic leader of the viral #walkaway campaign, which encourages Democrats to leave their party. Here we finally have a fresh-faced activist who is not just grousing and venting and pontificating, but actually building a movement to spark real and productive political change. Because I live and work in Washington, D.C., and have devoted my life to conservative causes, I don’t get to chat politics with many gay hairdressers from Manhattan. But, then, Straka is decidedly not your average gay hairdresser from Manhattan.

If you are a conservative, you’ve probably had a chance to see Straka on Fox News or heard him on talk radio. You definitely won’t see him on CNN or MSNBC or read him in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post, precisely because his politics don’t conform to the expectations of the liberal establishment. He has turned his back on the lies and distortions and conceit and narrow-mindedness and bullying and self-righteousness and anti-Trump derangement and economic illogic of the modern Democratic party and it’s far-left funders.

As we share coffee and muffins near the bar at the Trump Hotel, blocks from the White House, Straka explains his political awakening to me. “Once upon a time, I was a liberal,” he says. “I finally had it up to here with the racism, the marginalization of anyone based on gender or sexual orientation, mob suppression of free speech, junk science to advance ideological agendas. Democrats have become the party of hate and intolerance.”

On Saturday #walkaway will descend on the U.S. Capitol for a national rally of turned-off liberals like Straka, folks who can no longer in good conscience be part of the Democratic party. It could be the most impactful political rally of the year, but don’t be surprised if the national media again ignores it altogether. Even when Straka’s story is reported in the mainstream media, it is normally with a deep skepticism about whether his is a real movement or a trumped up ploy by conservatives to pretend that voters are fleeing the Left.

Many by now know Straka’s story. Back in May he posted a video exposing the hypocrisy and increasingly violent and subversive tactics of the Left and announced that he was leaving the Democratic party.

His powerful and emotional testimonial went viral. It turns out that countless other long-time liberals feel exactly the way he does. His group Walkaway invites those voters to join him and post their own stories of leaving the party. As more do, they send a powerful message to liberals everywhere who actually care about working-class America, free speech, fair play, supporting law enforcement and the military rather than demonizing them, putting America’s interests first, and creating economic prosperity for all.

It’s fairly obvious that this movement is a frontal assault against the groupthink narrative of the Left and its false claim of the moral high ground in our national culture wars. Straka says the Left has surrendered any pretension of moral superiority through its win-at-all-costs, heavy-handed tactics, a conclusion validated by the revolting behavior of Democrats during the Kavanaugh hearings. He tells me that for too long he “stood by and watched formerly sensible people become social-justice warriors who misconstrue facts, evidence and events to confirm their own biases that everyone who doesn’t comply with their prejudiced conclusions or follow their orders is a Nazi, racist, bigot, white supremacist, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, alt-right extremist.” I ask him if he feels comfortable as a gay man in conservative circles. He says he has been warmly accepted by most.

He tells me that as a former addict, he learned the subversive repercussions of the Left’s “victimhood” obsession. The cure for addiction is to take control of your own fate, and to stop blaming others for your own faults and failures. “Victimhood,” he says “is antithetical to self-improvement” and taking a handle on your own life. “The Dems’ most insidious lie is that no amount of hard work will allow you to overcome your victimhood or the privilege of those around you.” When I ask him to lay out the unifying principles of the #walkaway campaign, he unhesitatingly replies: “unity, equal opportunity, free speech, personal empowerment, and love.”

Straka has all the unbridled fervor of a convert, and that passion has been the force that has lifted #walkaway to the national scene. But sometimes his anti-left rhetoric can come across as strident and derisive. I worry a little this could turn off some of those liberals who should and could be converted to “vote red.” I’ve been a lifelong Republican, but even I don’t think voting red is the solution to all of our problems. The GOP hardly has a stellar record of keeping its promises. What is most important here (to me) is that voters turn away from the dangerous rhetoric and tactics of the Left, not so much that they run into the arms of the Republican party.

Straka’s movement has the potential to be a powerful political force that gives scores of fair-minded and principled Americans the courage to turn away from the nasty, illiberal, power-hungry party of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Bernie Sanders. I will be there on the Capitol lawns Saturday, marching in solidarity with these folks. I hope you will be, too.


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