Defeating the Radical Left: Chris Rufo Talks Strategy and Resilience

Credit: Ron Walters

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Rob Bluey | Daily Signal 

Chris Rufo wrote “America’s Cultural Revolution” last year as a warning to conservatives about the radical Left‘s takeover of institutions—from business and government to education and entertainment. In addition to being an exposé, it also served as a call to action.

Now, a year later, Rufo is optimistic that Americans, including some to left of center politically, are “waking up.” He attributes the change to the gruesome and deadly Oct. 7, 2023, attack by Hamas and the Left’s unflinching (and often antisemitic) criticism of Israel that followed.

“After 10/7, when those same people who were marching for [Black Lives Matter], who were pushing trans in schools, who were ramping up DEI, when they’re out there celebrating the terrorists who butchered, raped, and murdered innocent people, I think it caused this moment of horror, but also this moment of clarity,” Rufo told The Daily Signal.

The popular writer, filmmaker, and activist—whose work is available at—was in Washington, D.C., last week to accept The Heritage Foundation’s prestigious Salvatori Prize.

Listen to the interview on “The Daily Signal Podcast” or read an edited and abridged transcript below.

Rob Bluey: It’s almost a year since you published “America’s Cultural Revolution.” It was a call to action for Americans to wake up to what’s going on in the Marxist ideology that’s infused so many of the institutions in this country. Do you feel that people are heeding that call today?

Chris Rufo: I think so. You always want a greater number of people to heed the call.

The story that I told in the book was certainly revealed to be true at the time, but it took on a new dimension following the Hamas terror attack on Oct. 7 of last year. That has just accelerated this waking up that is happening in the United States, and in particular on the center-left. A lot of people who would say, “Oh, woke is so overblown, it’s not so bad. DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] is good. Maybe it’s not perfect, but maybe we can improve it.” But those were rationalizations.

And after 10/7, when those same people who were marching for BLM, who were pushing trans in schools, who were ramping up DEI, when they’re out there celebrating the terrorists who butchered, raped, and murdered innocent people, I think it caused this moment of horror, but also this moment of clarity, “Oh, all of that leads to this.”

I’ve never seen anything like it. You’re seeing a lot of shift right now, not just in public opinion, but in political alliances. You’re seeing a shift in financing people pulling back from giving money to universities, including the Ivy League universities.

Bluey: Kevin Roberts, president of The Heritage Foundation, says that he’s very optimistic that the American people will take back their country from the elites that have set us down this path.

Rufo: That’s the right attitude. That’s what I love about Kevin. Maybe it’s a Texas thing, a little Alamo spirit, but I share the same conviction.

And look, a lot of people on our side are down in the dumps. They’re demoralized, they’re feeling pessimistic. We all feel that at times, of course, but we have to also have some greater historical perspective and read the history of the founding, read the history of the Civil War, read the history of the Second World War, read the history of the ’60s and ’70s. We’ve been through much more difficult challenges in the past.

The question is, can we meet the standard of the past? That’s the real question. It’s a question of our own culture, our own spirit, our own character.

I certainly feel doubts about that sometimes. Even in the pre-revolutionary period, the Patriots of the American Revolution doubted themselves the whole time. Even in January of 1776, all of the smart opinion in the Colonies was that most Americans did not want revolution. Most Americans did not want to separate from Britain. Most Americans would refuse to participate.

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History is full of surprises, and I hope that we’re fortunate again, as we’ve been so many times in our past.

Bluey: You recently hosted a conversation with some individuals who go by pseudonyms who have been doxxed by what you call the left-wing smear machine that is quite coordinated in some of its activities. But you also sounded somewhat hopeful that maybe things were changing in that regard.

Rufo: Absolutely, yes. There’s a whole range of reputational destruction mechanisms and some of them are formalized, like the SPLC [Southern Poverty Law Center], for example, which is kind of a sham organization that would try to put you on a list and refer you to law enforcement for protesting a school career. They’ve run out of actual true hate groups. So, they have now labeled everything a hate group. It’s absurd.

But then down to the doxxing. A lot of people online want to maintain pseudonyms. Again, America has a long tradition of pseudonyms. The Founders wrote under pseudonyms for many of their works. Thomas Paine wrote anonymously “Common Sense,” which is the kind of literary work that helps spark the revolution. And then, as now, unmasking people as a way to put them toward reputational destruction. There are even more personal tactics to intimidate you, harass you, whatever.

Two things are happening, though. Those tactics have lost their steam. Those tactics have lost their effectiveness. Conservatives are getting much tougher and much smarter and much more courageous and much more sophisticated and adept at responding to those reputational attacks. Our audience, our supporters, our people automatically discount them: “Oh, OK, another person on the so-and-so list.” “Oh, OK, another person gets a smear piece and the X, Y, and Z, The Guardian, whatever publication.”

It was so overused for a period that it lost its rhetorical force, and conservatives have successfully adapted.

It can still be damaging to people who are in a vulnerable position—if you’re an employee at a big corporation, yeah, maintaining your anonymity is probably smart. But if you’re in politics or in the political world, we now have the tools, and we have now the support where some of these reputational attacks can be successfully countered.

Bluey: What keeps you going? You are sometimes outgunned 100 to 1, 500 to 1, maybe more, and yet it doesn’t seem to deter you.

Rufo: I love it. I enjoy it. I love the challenge. I enjoy the fight. I savor victories when they come and then I try to learn from defeats, which are inevitable. But I love the process and I enjoy the drama. I enjoy the conflict. All the things that you’re supposed to not like about politics.

The longer that I’ve been studying it and then participating in it, I realized that, actually, that is kind of the core of political life. And for whatever reason, I’m suited to it. And I find it to be an intellectual challenge, emotionally challenging, professionally challenging. It’s challenging from a business perspective. Of course, I run my own little shop as well as partnerships with these great institutions. And so, every day is an immense challenge, and the odds are often stacked against you. And that, for me, is an ideal environment.

It’s an environment that I love and I hope that it also inspires others. And I know that it has inspired many others to kind of follow suit and to try to really get in the fray.

The other thing that has been helpful is understanding that politics hasn’t really changed in a long time. And so, I’m realizing over the last few years, it’s like, all right, I have many flaws and many limitations, but I maybe have one gift. And it’s in the art of rhetoric, broadly speaking.

And so, I’ve been reading a lot of the old works from Greece and Rome about rhetoric, and it could have been written yesterday. It’s amazing. You’re reading Aristotle’s Treatise on Rhetoric and you say, “This is incredible.” It’s like nothing has changed. These guys were going down and they were duking it out intellectually in the Agora or in Rome, in the senate.

And, of course, they have grandeur that we don’t have. We live in a different era, but you get a sense in participating in something greater, you’re participating in a tradition that we’ve had in the West. For me, that is also a source of joy, a source of sustenance.

Bluey: With that being said, is there a particular goal that you have for 2024 or something that you’re working on, an objective that our audience may be able to support what you’re doing?

Rufo: I’m still finishing up this campaign to abolish DEI, which we launched last year. That’ll take me through the summer. The 18-month campaign cycle is probably the max, where after that, you start to lose effectiveness.

My goal is always to launch campaigns, entrepreneurial, from scratch, and then hand them off to others once they’re well developed. Launching critical race theory, launching trans ideology in schools, launching abolish DEI, launching this campaign against Harvard. Now others have taken up the mantle on many of those campaigns.

I feel like almost like a venture capital investor, startup operator. The startup phase is exciting. I like it. And then I hand it over when these campaigns are mature.

I’ll tell you, though, I don’t know what’s next. I know that we’re going to wind down abolish DEI. I do know that I’ll be hiring some additional staff in the coming months, but coming up with a campaign is not a work of mathematics. It’s a work of art. And so, part of the artistic process is the mystery of inspiration. I know that is maybe contrary to some other organizations that are a bit more logical, a bit more rational.

I tell my funders and supporters, like, “Alright, supporters want to support the work.” And I say, “Well, what’s the next thing?” It’s like, I don’t know, we’ll figure it out. But something will happen. And part of the success in political activism is sensing opportunity. Some of the best campaigns kind of emerged spontaneously or emerged by accident. Like a novelist or writer, sometimes you’re just waiting for that moment of inspiration.

There’s no end point to politics. I know that as long as I’m alive, there will be something to think about, something to fight about, something to work on. It’s just a matter of time before the next thing comes up.

Bluey: What are some of the ways that you would encourage people to follow your work or financially support you?

Rufo: Follow @realChrisRufo on X. Follow On Substack, small supporters can become paid subscribers, $8 a month or $80 a year. We have a huge and growing audience there. And philanthropic donors can reach out to me. There’s a contact form on my site.

On the support side, it’s been really unreal. We have incredible people in our country that want to see success. And I actually don’t do any outbound fundraising. I don’t do any solicitation. I don’t do any calls. But people have just come out of the woodwork saying, “Hey, I love what you’re doing. I want to support it.” That’s a very encouraging sign because what it shows is that there are people around the country that have the sophistication, the means, the inspiration, the capacity. They want to see something better.

The voting public, if you measure public opinion, has the right idea on many, many issues, if not most issues. The limitation is not the public. The limitation is not the funders or the philanthropists.

I’m sure anyone in this world can grumble about specifics, but actually, limitation is us as political leaders, as intellectual leaders, as movement leaders. I’m more and more convinced that the raw materials are there. It’s really up to us to shape them, to direct them, to point them in the right place, and to mobilize people in the most effective way possible. And so that, to me, is the big limitation right now. And a limitation is just another word for a challenge.

There’s a rich vein of opportunity there. It really is truly a rich vein. How do we get these? I mean, Hillsdale College is incredible, the Manhattan Institute, The Heritage Foundation, a whole range of other groups. We have brilliant people, we have great supporters, and now it’s time for action. And that’s really what I’m hoping that we’re driving toward.

Bluey: What’s holding us back then? Do you think that there’s an impediment, or is there a challenge that you want to leave us with and our audience?

Rufo: Yes, there are many challenges. Conservative institutions have to radically modernize the way they approach politics. They have to have an understanding of how media works in the 21st century. They have to have an understanding of how politics works.

We have to reconnect with the essence of political life, and we have to understand politics for what it is. We have to really refine our rhetorical sensibilities. … And then, of course, translate into administrative success. We’re actually fairly well there. But the rhetorical part is really the missing element on the Right.

If you actually look at the great political leaders in history—from the Greeks and Romans to the American Founders, to [Abraham] Lincoln, to, I mean, even in a less classical way, but of course, [Ronald] Reagan—they were very serious about rhetoric.

I actually think that that is the missing link. And rhetoric in a postmodern environment means media activism, mass persuasion, elite influence, digital communications, all of those five areas are how modern rhetoric plays out. If we can really radically modernize on those five practices, everything that we do could be much more successful.


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