Of all the people who felt shaken by last year’s election, conservatives might have been the hardest hit. Like a tornado ripping through town, Trumpism caught masses of conservatives off guard, people who felt safe and established and are now left homeless, unable to recognize their own community.
I grew up in a Republican home, but as an adult I’ve never really called myself a Republican. I’ve tried to keep an open mind to the views of liberals and others. As this presidential election approached, I found myself, for the first time, enthusiastically supporting Republican candidates. I drove from my home in Chicago to Iowa to make calls for Chris Christie before the caucus there. After Christie dropped out of the race, I turned to my second favorite candidate, John Kasich, and knocked on doors for him in my birthplace of Grand Rapids, Michigan ahead of that primary.
I always thought Trumpism was a fad that would pass, a practical joke that Republicans were playing on themselves. I was confident one of the 16 more qualified candidates would have the final say. As the last of them, Kasich, dropped out of the race, and I stared at the ruins of my hopes, I could not accept the outcome.
I joined the #DumpTrump efforts with hundreds of thousands of disgruntled Republicans on social media. I exchanged e-mails with Republican National Convention delegates, pleading with them to listen to us. I drove to Cleveland to see the debacle up close. Trump prevailed, and I wondered what to do next.
One morning in August, I woke up to messages from fellow #NeverTrumpers I had met on Facebook that a conservative independent candidate had emerged. A brief look at Evan McMullin’s website and background was all I needed. I created a Facebook group with my friends Maia Wilson and Mary Barber that morning, determined to do all I could to introduce America to McMullin in the 3 months we had until election day.
Like McMullin’s candidacy, my initial social media efforts grew in ways I never expected. I created state Facebook groups, and the national group grew to over 17,000 members by election day. With the hard work of another volunteer, McKay AhPing, we built a national online network of McMullin supporters. They ranged from an 84-year-old homebound woman in Indiana, to a Brazilian in Germany, to a Republican convention delegate in Washington state. We shared in each other’s excitement that someone was finally speaking for us, upholding decency and conservative ideas—and maybe, just maybe, this election would not turn out the way we thought. Volunteers collected signatures to get McMullin on state ballots, designed homemade fliers, funded dozens of billboards, called in to radio talk shows, made videos. This was a grassroots campaign like I had never seen.
“Evan,” as we affectionately called him, did not prevail in November, but the statement he made and the community that sprung up from his candidacy were strong. He had spoken during the election of the need for a “new conservative movement.” On election night, he made a bold pronouncement: “The Republican Party can no longer be considered the home for conservatives. Conservatism is about protecting the fundamental rights: that we are all equal, regardless of the color of our skin, the faith we practice, or our gender.”
As Trump took office, I felt like this was the beginning, not the end. There had to be a response. It occurred to me that if we could rally around a nobody and build a grassroots campaign in 3 months with little money or expertise, we could organize a movement the same way. I made phone calls to a few friends to talk it over. Then, in February, we did it: through our Facebook groups, I announced the launch of 8 local “New Conservative Movement” clubs in 8 states nationwide. The response was underway.
Our network of clubs has grown to 15 states, and supporters, including many who had not backed McMullin, continue to join our cause. Clubs are meeting every other month for a variety of activities, from assembling hygiene kits for homeless people, to holding a non-partisan rally for the Constitution. In our social media circles, you will always see refrains like “principle over party” and “a new generation of American leadership.” With no figurehead or endorsements from heavyweights, we’re building a real movement from the ground up.
At the beginning of this year, I reviewed the wreckage of the election and wondered: what will I do now? Will we go back to politics as usual, Republican vs. Democrat? Will we crawl back to the same politicians we’re disillusioned with? Will we become protest voters? Or will we build a new home? Many of us are choosing something new. If you’re a political orphan, I hope you’ll join us.