Over the past few years, as the general public has become increasingly concerned about the excesses of the far left on American college campuses, an entire cottage industry has sprung up around the problem.
These profiteers are typically ambitious young conservatives whose goal is not necessarily to fight the campus left but to convince the deep-pocketed Republican donor class that they are making a difference and, in doing so, make a name for themselves. Chief among these profiteers is Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA.
At 25, Charlie Kirk already has an impressive resume: he has interviewed President Trump, spoken at CPAC and the 2016 Republican Convention, and authored (rather, co-authored) two books. His organization, Turning Point USA, boasts of having chapters on over a thousand college campuses nationwide.
However, Charlie Kirk has never actually attended college himself, except for a brief stint in community college. Nor does he enjoy quite the level of popularity he claims. The audaciously false claims that Turning Point has made about its membership, along with other offenses, are detailed at length in a fascinating internal memo by fellow conservative youth organization Young America’s Foundation.
But Kirk’s greatest offense is not his false claims, nor his Professor Watchlist, nor his apparent political malfeasance, nor his embarrassing “diaper event.” No, Kirk’s greatest offense is his astonishing intellectual vacuity.
Kirk’s Twitter feed showcases this perfectly: his tweets, many of which are recycled repeatedly, are utterly devoid of original thought. They consist of short, choppy sentences excoriating the Democrats and fawning obsequiously over President Trump, and are typically punctuated by a triumphant thinking face emoji.
One could reasonably conclude from his Twitter feed that Charlie Kirk thinks in slogans.
Turning Point’s Facebook page, meanwhile, consists of meme after meme of unfunny jokes and overly simplistic gotcha arguments against left-wing views, many of them picturing Kirk or one of his (attractive, female) associates either smirking or frowning in puzzlement at how damn stupid those liberals are.
Far from making the conservative message “accessible,” the arguments made by Turning Point USA, even when correct, are so weak, with such meager intellectual effort placed into them, that they serve only to insult their audience.
Turning Point’s memes have become famous on the internet, and not in a good way. Trolls have had a field day creating blank templates of Turning Point posts and using them to depict Kirk making all sorts of outrageous statements and facile, racist arguments. But even after several years of relentless online mockery, Turning Point continues to churn out memes in the same derided format.
Why doesn’t Charlie Kirk care about his image problem? It’s simple: he doesn’t need to. He’s not trying to change hearts and minds. He’s trying to make wealthy conservative donors think that he is doing so. This business plan has allowed Kirk to turn the battle against campus leftism into a lucrative cash cow for himself, as well as a pathway to further and greater power later on.
To be clear, Charlie Kirk is of a different class entirely from the true conservative activists on campus, many of whom fight challenging uphill battles for free speech, due process, and ideological diversity, only to receive scant recognition for their efforts. Most young conservatives don’t take Kirk or Turning Point seriously at all. In fact, Kirk’s own conference attendees spread memes mocking him.
Indeed, Kirk is not only useless in the campus fight, but actively detrimental to the efforts of true activists. He is everything leftists want a conservative to be: a smug, uncompassionate child of privilege who isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is. These are the sorts of derogatory stereotypes that true conservative students have to go to great lengths to disprove.
However, despite the disavowals of YAF and others, many conservative students are reticent about openly locking horns with Charlie Kirk. While some may consider it not worth the time, I suspect that, as was suggested by Haley Smith in USA Today, many are reluctant to get on the wrong side of someone so lavishly funded and well-connected.
To quote that great work of political commentary, Game of Thrones, “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”
Charlie Kirk’s great success has been casting a shadow of power around himself, and it is time to bust that illusion. Kirk has proven himself no fit captain for the conservative youth enterprise. College Republicans and other conservative youth organizations around the country should follow YAF’s lead and begin releasing public statements explicitly distancing themselves from Turning Point USA’s opportunism and lack of intellectual rigor, and actively shunning Turning Point on campus.
In order to make this possible, however, the Republican Party must step up and provide College Republicans with sufficient funds to ensure that students are not caught in the position of having to either play ball with Turning Point or else forgo funding for their events.
For older Americans dismayed by the situation on our nation’s campuses, I share your outrage and I would recommend giving your financial support to any of a number of other organizations which are actually doing good work to combat the problem.