One of the loudest and most aggressive conservative advocacy groups of the past decade is asking Americans to calm down and stop talking about politics, if only for a day.
FreedomWorks, the libertarian outfit that rose to prominence through its hard-line opposition to Barack Obama, the Affordable Care Act, and the Republican establishment, has unveiled a new campaign that encourages Americans to tone down the rancorous political rhetoric. Dubbed “Celebrate Americans,” the initiative proposes setting aside Labor Day as a politics-free day of national harmony.
It’s a message that most would expect to see from a kumbaya centrist organization like No Labels, rather than an organization instrumental in the founding of the Tea Party and the Republican Party’s Obama-era lurch to the right. But FreedomWorks’ conspicuously measured tone is a reflection of how disjointed American politics—and its various institutions—has become in the Trump era. An organization that just last year was scoring Democratic presidential candidates on their adherence to socialism—and just last week facing scrutiny over apparent vote-by-mail misinformation—is now imploring Americans to dial back the heated rhetoric.
Asked whether he felt FreedomWorks contributed to the very atmosphere of political divisiveness it’s now trying to combat, FreedomWorks spokesman Peter Vicenzi said the acrimony in contemporary American politics is largely the result of the very policies FreedomWorks has fought for over a decade.
“We’ve supported things that have always been part of our political culture, our constitutional values, and what we saw towards the end of the Bush administration and certainly in the Obama administration took us away from that,” he said. Policies like Obamacare and 2008’s Wall Street bailouts are “what we think made it a more divisive atmosphere.”
FreedomWorks’ new campaign speaks to a larger trend in the Republican political ecosystem. While the group and like-minded organizations were instrumental in moving the GOP to the right during the Obama years, members of Congress who were once considered on the right-wing fringe are now in positions of power and being outflanked by a new, even more outlandish class of grassroots Republicans.
Just five years ago, Trump’s chief of staff, former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), roiled Washington when he defied the odds to unseat the Republican House speaker John Boehner. Now the party establishment is backing a House candidate who thinks 9/11 was an inside job and President Donald Trump is combating a cabal of satanic peophiles.
In that political environment, a group like FreedomWorks, once considered the vanguard of a hostile takeover of the GOP, now sounds downright magnanimous, while the more establishment Republican groups, like the Chamber of Commerce, have found it hard to fit into the party’s firmament.
“Politics impacts every aspect of American life these days,” Vicenzi lamented in an interview on Friday. “We want people to remember that we’re all Americans. From what we’ve seen, a lot of people have forgotten that.”
The group’s Celebrate Americans campaign, and an accompanying social media effort branded as “Pause Politics,” are pushing a unity and harmony message reminiscent of the very groups created to counteract the Tea Party movement that FreedomWorks helped spearhead—organizations like No Labels, Unity 2012, and the Coffee Party. “We are not divided like some might want you to think,” a promotional video for the campaign says. “Americans do get along with their neighbors, help their communities, and love their country.”
Vicenzi said he doesn’t consider the more measured tone of its new campaign to be a break with the group’s reputation as an aggressive activist group. Instead, hei said the campaign is largely a product of the times—and the deep despair that Americans, beset by bad news, generally seem to be feeling.
“There’s no policy goal for this campaign,” he insisted. “We hope to reach out to people outside the typical FreedomWorks base.” He said FreedomWorks did some polling on the idea and found some support for a national day free of politics, and shared some of the polling data showing 70 percent of respondents supported the idea of “a day without politics,” during which “media outlets, candidates, and all other organizations would be asked to stop talking about politics for a full day.”
Americans just need a break, Vicenzi said. “It’s been a rough year.”