We are posting below the text of Drew Ryun’s speech at the Red State Gathering. As Drew would say, “These are my notes. I never read my speeches. I may or may not have stuck to this word for word. . . .”
“People often ask me how I got into politics and if I majored in poly-sci.
Oddly enough, I took one poly-sci class in college and majored in History and English, dropping my third major, Latin, after reality set in two years into my college career. I figured two majors was enough to succeed in life and running on a track scholarship, I needed more hours in the day to train, not study.
As for politics, I sort of fell into it. The year was 1996 and with the 2nd Congressional District seat being vacated by Sam Brownback so he could run for Senate, there was an opportunity and one of Kansas’ favorite sons, my dad, Jim Ryun, made the decision to run for the seat. To some extent, it was a no brainer and many chalked it up as a sure win. It was anything but that. After a contentious primary, dad spent most of the general election trailing a multi-millionaire trial attorney. Outspent 2 to 1, his campaign had few options. We weren’t going to beat the opponent on the air. So we hit the ground and over the last month of the campaign, with a concerted effort on the ground, we overcame a 7 point deficit to win by 7 points.
Let’s just say the appetite was whetted, but it wasn’t until the 2002 election season that I became hooked. That was the year that the Republican National Committee rolled out its “vaunted” Voter Vault system. I was approached to help recruit and lead a grassroots team that was dropped in last minute to the special election pitting then Congressman Jim Talent against Jean Carnahan in Missouri. The beginning of this fray into politics started rough. I walked into the Joplin County GOP HQ with high expectations, envisioning, I don’t know why, a robust headquarters with a phone bank, teeming with volunteers.
As the door slammed behind me, it echoed in the silence of what turned out to be an old doctor’s office at the far end of which sat a middle aged woman behind a cardboard table with a solitary rotary phone.
I paused for a moment then asked the obvious question: “Is this really the GOP headquarters?”
The woman smiled, excited that what appeared to be her lone volunteer for the day had arrived, “It sure is!” she said enthusiastically.
Me, still somewhat shocked, asked, “Where is the phone bank?”
Puzzled she asked, “A what?”
At that point reality set in and I asked if there was another phone. She said there was another one in the room next to her. I walked in and called back to the RNC in DC reaching my buddy Timmy Teeple.
“There’s a problem, man. The HQ is an old doctor’s office and there is nothing here. No volunteers, no phone bank, nothing.”
I’ll never forget his reply. First it was laughter. Then it was, “Oh, we knew. That’s why we sent you. We figured if there was anyone who could figure it out, it was you. I also knew that if you knew how bad it was, you might not have gone.”
Me: “I’m gonna need more money.”
“Well, there aren’t any more. Good luck. I know you can do this.”
I’m not sure what I said next, but I am pretty sure it was akin, “Wait until I get back to DC, chief.” And then I hung up and sat for 5 minutes, but myself, facing a crossroads in life. A very real part of me wanted to toss in the towel. I know we’ve all had similar crossroads in life. One path is to give in and give up. The other is to plow ahead.
After 5mins, I pushed myself out of the chair and decided, “Well, I am here. Here goes nothing.”
I then proceeded to call every donor type I knew at that time. Anyone, anywhere. If I was going to pull it off, I was going to need a phone bank. 3 days later and the effort $10k richer, my buddy Bob Goodwin and I had slapped together the ugliest phone bank you have ever seen. Calling upon every local volunteer, we had the worst collection of old phones you’d ever seen. The local phone company wired the HQ with as many phone lines as we could fit and to create some noise barriers and separation, we built call booths out of cardboard boxes. By weeks end, with my grassroots team having rolled in, we had 100 phones going, both there in the HQ and at local businesses. I set up our goal precincts in a four county region on a framed map that sat behind a large piece of glass and we systematically hit doors during the day, phones at night. On election night, we won by 1.4% with 25% of that margin of victory coming from the 4 counties my team worked.
I often share that story for this reason. There are no silver bullets in politics. I know many of you know this, but we as a movement love to talk. We love to spin out great and wonderful ideas that in a perfect world will solve all our problems, end world hunger and get this country back on track.
I have news for you. We have more than enough good ideas to launch from. We have a sound political epistemology to work from. We know what we believe and why we believe it. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and jump into the trenches.
Let me ask you this. How many of you believe there is a conservative movement?
Let me ask it a little differently. How many of you think there is a conservative POLITICAL movement? There is a difference. One loves to talk, the other loves action.
It is action that we need these days and it is action from the ground up. Oddly enough, I do think there is a use for the Republican Party today as a vehicle. There is even a greater need to dump many of those inside it.
To my shame as a former Republican National Committee operative, apparently the party is now okay with those who hold official positions with the committee to use any and all tactics to win elections. From the Barbours claiming their race baiting in Mississippi was “expanding the electorate” and seemingly okay with calling the tea party racists and then Pontious Pilate-like washing their hands of the affair with a casual, “What can you do about it?”
These are the same folks that the leaders of the three national committees apparently have no problem with. They would rather kill their base than lose.
In the end they are going to create an even stronger, more energized base and still lose.
These same folks will tell you, “ObamaCare is here to stay, so we have to find ways to work with it.”
Wrong. We are a free society built on the concept that we are free to make our own decisions within an ordered society and that includes insurance in a free market.
Folks, I don’t know about you, but I believe we can still win. I do. I know we are fighting a two front battle. We are up against a party who wants nothing to do with its party platform (the unwashed have written it, we can ignore it!) because they want to “grow the party.”
Let me be honest with you-their idea of growing the party is so they can continue to cling to power, money and the status quo. Ask your average, back bencher GOP Congressman who votes for leadership so he can get his committee assignments what the party platform is, and you will most likely get a blank state in return. Ask him to explain the free markets and what a conservative ideology is and the blank stare will be replaced with panic.
Enough is enough. I am not saying we have to run off and create a third party. I think that is political suicide. If we want to win, we’re going to have to win the hard way, taking every inch of ground inside of the primaries, never giving up.
Will there be losses along the way? Yes, many. Will there be great victories? Absolutely.
As my dad told me growing up, nothing worth having ever comes easy.
To some extent, that is the essence of America, isn’t it? We were founded upon the great pursuit of what many felt was unattainable: a republic based on the concept that individuals have the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. We take that for granted these days, but back in the 18th century dominated by monarchies, that was unheard of. We created a new reality, carving this dream out of unimaginable hardships and wildernesses that stretched for thousands of miles. It is that same spirit that drives us today, not to return to the days of the Founders, but to renew the promise of their vision in a 21st century.
It was one of those Founders whose life reaches through the centuries to remind us of this. Only recently have people begun to hear the name of Joseph Warren and place him in the pantheon of John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others. One of the ring leaders of the Sons of Liberty, Warren was the orator of the fledgling rebellion, giving voice to the colonists frustrations and while Sam Adams attempted to negotiate a peaceful ending to the boycott of the tea trade in Boston, it is believed it was Warren that led the Sons of Liberty, dressed as Indians, to throw the tea into the Boston Harbor.
The man was a true believer, who even, when elected by the first Continental Congress to be general of the new forces, refused to take command at Breed’s Hill, now known as the Battle of Bunker Hill, citing inexperience. With musket in hand, having hiked miles to get to the battle front, he told the commander of the American forces, William Prescott, “Place me where you think the fighting will be heaviest.”
It was there that he died, covering the final American retreat as they ran out of ammunition and began hurling rocks at the advancing British troops.
You know that question, “If you could have dinner with four famous people in history, who would they be?” Let me just say that Warren would be one of them.
Months before his life ended on Bunker Hill, he was chosen to again give the memorial speech on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre. In the Feneuil Meeting hall, standing room only with hostile British officers sitting in the front row seeking to intimidate him with unholstered pistols, Warren gave what I think is one of the greatest speeches in American history.
He ended with this:
“Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”
Let us act worthy of ourselves.”
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