The Rise of the Barstool Conservative

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By Brendan Eagen 

The one thing everyone can agree on in politics is that it is always changing. As time passes, certain issues are resolved, others are magnified, people are born, and others die. So it goes. As we depart from the Trump administration, the ever-changing nature of the political sphere has become more apparent than ever. Trump’s politics have most noticeably changed the Republican party. While Republican lawmakers go to war over whether or not they should stay loyal to Trump, the future of the party and American conservatism at large is fairly uncertain. According to Matthew Walther of “The Week,” that direction may, at least in part, be determined by an emerging group of voters unveiled by Trump, which he calls “Barstool conservatives” in reference to the sports website popular amongst young people.

Walther describes this novel voting bloc and how it was uncovered by Trump in his article “The Rise of Barstool Conservatives.” In the article, Walther claims that “Trump brought the conservative movement to an end” by recognizing that “millions of Americans do not oppose or even care about same-sex marriage, abortion” amongst other issues which had been hallmarks of conservative thinking since its inception. Rather, according to Walther, this new breed of the conservative voter has “vague concerns about political correctness and ‘Social Justice Warriors’, opposition to the popularization of so-called critical race theory, sentimentality about the American flag and military”. 

What distinguishes the Barstool conservative even further from a classic conservative is what he accepts. A far cry from the religious conservatives who had formed the Republican conscious before, the Barstool conservative welcomes the common vices of pornography, drug use, and legalized gambling.

And who would be the most visible exemplar of the Barstool conservative? Why of course it would be Barstool Founder and President Dave Portnoy. Portnoy’s public profile has steadily risen as Barstool has gained in popularity. Known mainly for founding Barstool, his low tolerance for political correctness, candid personality, and his “one bite everybody knows the rules” pizza reviews have earned him an individual spotlight. As Walther points out, Portnoy’s persona has been largely apolitical. However, according to Walther, that changed when he began criticizing coronavirus lockdowns last year. When that happened, in Walther’s words, “it became clear that he embodied the worldview of millions of Americans”. 

Portnoy’s biggest issue with the lockdowns has been the restrictive measures placed on small businesses and the government’s dysfunction in providing them relief. His frustration led him to create “The Barstool Fund,” aimed at helping small businesses across the country. 

“Nobody seems to care in the government, or at least they’re not doing anything acting like they care. No plan, no relief, no bailout,” said Portnoy in the video announcing the creation of the fund.  Since its inception, Portnoy has further endeared himself to the hearts of right-wing champions of small business. 

The belief that the government should be doing more to help small businesses during this time further distinguishes Portnoy, and Barstool conservatives in general, from the traditional vein of conservatism up to now. Portnoy’s macroeconomic views aside, Walther calls the economic stance of Barstool conservatives at large “a mixture of standard libertarian talking points and pseudo-populism, embracing lower taxes on one hand and stimulus checks” on the other. And herein lies a small paradox in this newly discovered branch of conservatism. While many are still not enthusiastic about large government and regulation, they are less averse to public intervention in private business than a traditional conservative would be, as long as policy is simple and helpful. These somewhat contradictory beliefs do not necessarily demonstrate a fatal flaw in the rationale of Barstool conservatives; rather, they are the product of the voting bloc’s lack of organization and neoteric nature.

The rise of Barstool conservatives could present Republicans with a long-term solution to their ongoing youth problem. The name “Barstool” alone conjures up thoughts of day-drinking, backyard-beer die playing, Patagonia fleece-wearing fraternity men to anyone familiar with the platform. The modern “frat bro,” with all his faults, has grown up in a world where religious beliefs are not mainstream and economic failures are a virtual certainty. Therefore, this shift away from traditional conservative ideology towards a confusing mix of libertarianism and acceptance of government bailout and relatively unspecified anti-politically correct stances is not unexpected.

Politics does not stagnate. New people mature into members of political society and their experiences and beliefs, inherently different from those who came before them, reshape the political landscape. While the Republican Party continues to question its identity moving forward in the aftermath of Trump’s more than unconventional exit from the oval office, expect Barstool conservatives to play a large role in forming that identity.

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