3 min read

The conservative grassroots activist, author, and commentator talks to Michael E. Hartmann about ideas and action, and giving and grifting.

“The overwhelming majority of ‘conservative’ donors, knowingly or unknowingly, are getting played by Conservatism, Inc., which is really about 90 percent of the so-called ‘conservative’ think tanks in D.C. but, quite frankly, it happens even in the smaller ones across the country,” according to conservative activist, author, and high-profile commentator Ned Ryun in a provocative American Greatness article last month. Well, that caught our attention here at The Giving Review.

“The question I have for donors, but even generally those on the Right,” he writes in “The Stupid Money on the Right Rides the Grift Train,” “is this (and if you’ve been paying attention, you know this is simply a yes/no question): do you think that the ‘Conservative Movement’ as currently constructed, can actually defeat the Left and save this country? I’ll give you a hint: The answer is no. As in, not even close.”

Ryun is founder and chief executive officer of American Majority—which trains potential candidates for public office, mostly at the state and local levels, and grassroots leaders and activists. Its affiliated American Majority Action engages in political activity.

He was a writer for President George W. Bush and also founded and directed Generation Joshua, a civics-education program for middle- and high-school students.

Ryun is the author of 2019’s Restoring Our Republic: The Making of the Republic and How We Reclaim It Before It’s Too Late and this year’s The Adversaries: A Story of Boston and Bunker Hill. With his father, Olympic medalist and former U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, and his twin brother Drew, Ryun also co-authored Heroes Among Us.

He was nice enough to join me for a conversation last month. The just more than 10-and-a-half-minute video below is the first of two parts of our discussion; the second is here. In the first part, we talk aboutAmerican Majority, the Battle of Bunker Hill, conservatism’s attitudes about ideas and action, and conservatives’ giving.

Ryun and Hartmann

“I would argue that we have misplaced priorities and misplaced funding in a variety of ways,” Ryun tells me. “I understand there are disagreements obviously inside of the movement about where we should be putting money,” but

until we actually have the power to implement our policy ideas, all we’re doing is having really good conversations about what-ifs, whereas the left … these guys are very good at organizing politically, so they can be in the right place to implement their policy. … So why don’t we on the right actually start to do some of these things that will put us in these positions, to actually implement the right policy? It means we have to completely reject or some of our thinking and how we approach where we’re putting our money, our time, and investment, so that we can be in this position.

As for too many conservative givers in particular, “These people were very clearly very sophisticated and smart in how they made their money in private business, right? There’s a reason they’re donors, because they’ve been successful,” according to Ryun.

Yet somehow there’s a detachment between their approach in the private sector and then … their nonprofit charitable giving. That, quite frankly, is a bit mind-boggling to me because if they had the same approach in their private business that they have in their nonprofit giving, they would have gone bankrupt years ago.

In the conversation’s second part, Ryun talks about ideas, action, and giving, along with some proposals to reform philanthropy.

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