Erick Erickson is the former Editor-in-Chief of RedState, and founder of The Resurgent. A longtime friend of Young America’s Foundation, Erickson is an alumnus of several YAF conferences.
How did your involvement with Young America’s Foundation begin?
I was in college at Mercer University in Macon, GA and a conservative group asked me to start a chapter. I was completely overwhelmed at the idea of it. Some folks from Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute reached out to help get started and asked if I had ever been to a Young America’s Foundation conference before, and I said no. And so they wound up connecting me with some people in Atlanta for a YAF event up there and I went and was hooked. Dinesh D’Souza was speaking, Laura Ingraham spoke, even Kellyanne Conway came who was just starting on polling at the time. My mind was blown–it was like I had found my tribe of people. I stayed in touch and wound up getting a scholarship to go to another YAF conference in Washington DC. And it just kept going– I became one of those obsessive people who showed up every year at conferences. It was just fantastic. I didn’t have anyone in central Georgia at the time in the mid ‘90s who really engaged at an intellectual level with conservatism, and suddenly here I was surrounded by people who were thinking about principle and ideas and how to translate them into public policy.
Who was your favorite YAF speaker who had the biggest influence on you as a conservative?
He blew my mind at the Washington DC National Conservative Student Conference in 1995-Jack Kemp. It was the next year that Bob Dole picked him to be his running mate in the presidential election. And I was in college and I actually got to be in the motorcade!
Let’s talk a little bit about how you became such a rising star in the Conservative Movement. What got your start in conservative media?
In 2004, some friends of mine started RedState. They brought me in on the first day and wound up putting me in charge of it. And RedState just exploded, it was the only group blog for conservatives. When people were looking for a counterpart to the leftwing group blogs, the only one on the market was Red State, so we started getting a lot of attention. And this is where I really where I fell back in love with YAF. Back when he was in Congress, Vice President Mike Pence reached out to meet me and sent me a copy of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. He told me I needed to be sure what I believed if I was going down this road–so I really got back into just the reading and exploration of these conservative ideas. YAF is the foundational place to go to connect with people who are thinking and breathing conservatism.
How has the conservative media sphere changed since you first entered the scene, and has it become more prominently mainstream?
I do think it’s more mainstream. If I had one criticism of it–and I’m in conservative talk radio, I’ve been on Fox, CNN–to some degree, I almost think we’ve gotten to the point where conservatism itself is ratings-based as compared to ideas-based. And that’s kind of frustrating to me– we’re not latching on to core convictional principles anymore, we’re almost letting the whims and emotions of the day lead conservatism which I don’t think is very conservative.
What advice would you give to conservative students who are battling the rise of socialism on the far left?
The advice I would give is–don’t reciprocate hostility and yelling. There seems to be this pervasive sentiment on the right that the other side wins because they’re in your face and loud and yelling, and I don’t really think that’s the case, I don’t think they’re winning. Being willing to break bread with people on the other side, and recognize them as someone who just maybe has bad ideas, often times because of how they were raised. We shouldn’t be willing to reject having conversations with the other side. But I would also tell them they need to make sure they surround themselves with like-minded people. One of the whole points of progressivism now is to isolate conservatives and make them think nobody believes what they believe and that they’re all alone–surround yourself with likeminded people so you know you’re not alone.
The Left has turned further towards socialism and figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Do you see the Left ever moderating and coming back to the center, being willing to work with conservatives on common-sense issues?
As much as there are people on the Left who say the president needs to be defeated to moderate conservatives, I think the Left needs to lose a few more elections by going left, in order to moderate. You never know it when you’re really in it but I really do think we’re in this complete shakeup of the American political landscape because minorities who have long viewed themselves as aligning with the Left, have much more in common with conservatives these days, than they do with the secular, rich white liberals. I think there’s no better time for the message of individual liberty, faith, and federalism to grab hold of the minds of minorities who have been long tied to the Left, and show them that this is what they actually believe.