After working for years to elect Republicans, what made you change the way you engage in politics?
Additional thoughts on this topic…
We changed to be consistent with our principles in all arenas. We want to unite people to make a bigger difference in everything we do. There can be no exceptions — and this is a lesson we learned the hard way.
We got into politics to improve public policy. Like many people, we were disappointed with the policies from recent administrations of both political parties — from unsustainable government spending fueled by a growing national debt, to reckless foreign policy that’s pulled our country into seemingly endless wars and cost tens of thousands of Americans their lives.
After decades of working to correct these problems without being involved in electoral politics, we concluded this wasn’t possible — that we needed to help elect people who were committed to addressing these problems, as well as many others.
You only get two choices in our system, so we bet on the red team (whose leaders at the time were telling us they were committed to passing policies we believed would help people improve their lives). We mobilized citizens to support candidates that could help achieve a partisan majority as a way to pass those policies. And it worked in some cases.
But too often this meant putting off the big issues — or worse, sometimes it’d result in the opposite of what the country needed — all in the name of protecting that partisan majority.
The big problems kept getting bigger, and while we didn’t start out to push for a partisan agenda, we found ourselves engaging in the sort of partisan squabbles that make progress nearly impossible to achieve.
By the mid-2010s, it was clear there were many issues where that partisan approach wasn’t effective — from special-interest corporate welfare to our broken immigration system to economic issues that neither side had the courage to address.
There needed to be a major change in this approach to politics — one that was consistent with our approach in other areas. We have long tried to heed Frederick Douglass’ wisdom to “unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” And in politics this meant instead of partisanship, seeking partnerships regardless of political party. In other words, we needed to build diverse policy coalitions rather than rely on partisan majorities as the path to passing good policies.
That’s what we’re doing now. And it’s working!
Today, Americans for Prosperity — the organization we rely on to improve public policy — focuses on bringing together nonpartisan coalitions to pass good policy, and it’s working better than anything we’ve tried before. The results speak for themselves.
Take our efforts to reform the country’s criminal justice system — a system rife with injustice. Charles and our philanthropic community have been working for decades to fix it. Yet despite widespread agreement on the problems, partisanship held back real reform.
That began to change when we, alongside many other groups, decided to put our differences aside and unite to get it done, working with everyone from the ACLU and Sen. Cory Booker to the Heritage Foundation and Sen. Mike Lee.
In 2018, this culminated in the First Step Act, a once-in-a-generation criminal justice reform that passed in the U.S. Senate with 87 votes and overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Democrats. Here’s a video we made with Van Jones, a good partner on criminal justice issues on how setting partisanship aside and working together was essential to achieving this reform.
That same year, this nonpartisan approach helped pass legislation that allows terminally ill patients to access potentially life-saving treatments (known as “Right to Try”). It also helped achieve reforms that provide veterans with more access to better health care (the “VA Mission Act”). Predating these federal reforms, we accomplished even more in the states by working with diverse coalitions of people to bring about dozens of reforms.
Results like these prove that this commitment to a nonpartisan approach works. Americans for Prosperity has gone out of its way to praise any lawmaker, regardless of party, when they lead on an initiative that will help people improve their lives.
Separately, AFP Action — a super PAC supported by Stand Together donor partners — began directly supporting the election of Democrats and Republicans in the 2019 and 2020 election cycles based on their leadership in solving critical problems.
This is helping to show the many millions of Americans who are fed up with partisan bickering that, just as they suspected, there is indeed a better way.
We’ve been blown away by the support we’ve received since making this change — from grassroots activists across the country, donors, policymakers, you name it.