Turning Point USA is arguably the fastest-growing conservative organization in America and has done work on high school and college campuses to give students a voice. The original mission, when the nonprofit was founded in 2012, was a noble one. According to its website, “TPUSA’s mission is to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.” In some cases, they have done that successfully.
My issue with Turning Point USA has nothing to do with their mission or most of the people that work or represent them. I know members of Turning Point USA who are fantastic and intelligent young conservatives. Most of them want to have a positive impact on this country. My issue with Turning Point USA is the execution of their mission, and how it has pivoted away from their goal to prioritize flashiness.
Let’s take a look back at 2017 when the organization encouraged students to protest safe spaces… by wearing diapers. You read that right, wear diapers! Of course, the group garnered media attention for this event and continued to grow despite the concerning unprofessionalism. This bizarre event was the first of several publicity stunts the group would have in years to come.
This week, TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk tweeted that the organization was going to deny a $1.2 million loan, which was available from the government-funded COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program. In what appeared to show that the group was true to its conservative values, COO Tyler Bower publicly said on Facebook that TPUSA had applied for the loan to avoid layoffs. Instead of being honest from the start, they looked to this scheme for an opportunity for temporary good press.
This brings along the broader issue of TPUSA’s approach. Although they have mastered the art of social media marketing, this is not always a good thing. A significant part of TPUSA’s business is their ambassador program, which allows people to promote their content and merchandise, and helps provide revenue. In exchange, ambassadors get a commission off of merchandise sales. While many of their ambassadors are intelligent and passionate about the conservative cause, some are not adequately vetted and are allowed into the ambassador program without any intellectual contribution, or even a sizable social media following. It only adds to the toxic influencer culture, where people can get famous quickly without any talent or skills.
Part of TPUSA’s model is using bumper sticker slogans such as “socialism sucks.” Unfortunately, these catchy sayings are sometimes all TPUSA members come away knowing about conservatism, as opposed to substantial arguments to support their talking points. For a group that is focused on young people, this is dangerous, because it creates people who blindly follow conservatism, Trump, and Republicans, without being able to view a political idea objectively.
All of the above stated are things to consider before students join TPUSA, but perhaps the biggest of all is the fact that the group has a potential expiration date. Even though founder Charlie Kirk was an anti-Trump Republican during the 2016 election at first, he has grown very close to the Trump family, and the President frequently speaks at their events. They’ve even created Turning Point Action, which has a goal to register young voters to re-elect the President in 2020. Except, the organization seems to blindly follow the President, making whatever action he takes seem “conservative,” even if it’s not. For a group that has grown increasingly Trump-centric, what are they going to do once he leaves office?
Many high school and college students are looking for ways to get involved in conservative politics, and I am here to say that you can do better than Turning Point USA. Find a group, campaign, or something that helps you have in-depth knowledge about conservatism and politics in general. Find somewhere that encourages people to think independently, and does not objectify people based on their identity to support their arguments. Find a group that is going to be sustainable past the Trump era. At the end of the day, knowledge is more critical than shock value.