Some might call my goal in getting involved with politics a bit immodest: I wanted to alter the direction of this country. As far as I’m concerned, policy on both sides of the aisle is fatally flawed, and at first I assumed that the way to make the biggest impact would be to work directly on policy. But I was wrong. The real fast lane to political change is changing who makes policy.
Call it either a liability or my greatest asset, but I’ve always been a bit of a bomb thrower. Growing up in southern Maryland, a lot of the guys on my high school sports teams called me Crazy Werrell. And my attitude? On the first day of sports practice, as a freshman, you should go out and punch the starting middle linebacker in the face just to show everybody you’re not going be messed with. By my senior year, I was the starting linebacker, weighing only 167 pounds—after which they moved me to defensive end. So “this cannot be done” has never been part of my calculus; in fact it makes me more recalcitrant.
Anyway, you can’t worry about what other people think. If I believe in something, I’m going to play like a possessed wild animal, both in sports and politics. I stand up for what I believe with every ounce of my being.
It was in high school that I first got seriously engaged ideologically, watching Ron Paul in the presidential debates. He was a revelation—not only sparked my interest in libertarianism, but stoked my contempt for America’s insufferably smug ruling elites.
A couple of years later, I was on one of the nation’s most liberal campuses, where I was recruited to play lacrosse and was a conservative libertarian (two strikes against me), which is something I’d recommend to any young conservative or libertarian looking to someday do his part in bringing down the left. In my case it was Haverford College, and my four years there not only sharpened my skills but, I like to think, proved to my classmates that not only is a Tea Party person not necessarily a “hater,” but can also have an intelligent and informed position. And —unlike so many—can actually engage in civil discourse.
My senior thesis was on the role that national, state and local economic conditions have on presidential elections, and in December 2012, during my senior year, I went to the GOP convention in Maryland, thestate where I was raised. The MD GOP was putting on a number of seminars in conjunction with the convention, and at one of them the speaker was giving a presentation on how to frame issues in a campaign, and he was discussing all these hardcore free market Austrian economists I admired but almost nobody else seemed to know. So afterward, I went up to him. He looked me over in some surprise—I was the only “kid” there wearing a three-piece suit, like he was—and when he asked for my résumé, I handed him one…on paper. “Wow,” he said, “nobody has paper résumés anymore. I like you. You’re coming up for lunch with me in D.C. next week.”His name was Chris Doss, of the Leadership Institute, and he became my mentor in this industry[CE2] . After I graduated, he got me into the Leadership Institute’s Campaign Management School, which offers a week-long crash course in the nuts and bolts of running a campaign. Soon after, Chris landed me my first political job: working for a Tea Party Republican in a race for Virginia’s House of Delegates.Our guy, Mark Berg, a doctor, ran hard against Obamacare, and after first knocking off a sitting Republican moderate in the primary, we smoked the Independent in the general. We took 65 percent (64.97 percent...but who’s counting?) of the vote, including all but one precinct in Winchester, the district’s biggest and most liberal city.By then, I knew this was exactly where I belonged. True, any illusions about it being a sexy job were long gone. Campaign politics is a grind: four-plus months of sixteen- to twenty-hour days filled with data collection, voter contact, and voter identification—the “glorified bean counting of politics,” as I like to dismissively describe my job—and otherwise scrapping with every ounce of your being with a work ethic largely unknown to my generation to get the word to the voters, and then get the voters to the polls.The sexy part is winning.
You can find more of Zach's work at www.zacharywerrell.com
Growing up in Charlottesville, Virginia, my family was conservative, though not especially political. But I caught the bug early. My first campaign was 2004, Bush’s reelection, when I was in the ninth grade. I didn’t do much—worked the polls, helped out a bit at the local Republican Party headquarters—but I was hooked. And there was no question where I stood: Republicans = Good, Democrats = Bad.I no longer feel quite the same way today. Don’t get me wrong; Democrats still = Bad, maybe more so than ever. But these days, as far as I’m concerned, Establishment Republicans = Not Much Better. Arrogance and cronyism are rampant in both parties.I learned all I needed to know about wishy-washy, unprincipled, cynical mainstream Republicanism when I went to work for Linda McMahon in her 2012 Senate race in Connecticut. It was my first job out of the University of Richmond, and I was put in charge of her field office in Waterbury, one of the most economically depressed towns in America. The economy was so terrible in Connecticut Linda actually had a shot. And as the cofounder, with her husband Vince, of World Wrestling Entertainment, she had more money than God. In fact, up until early October, she was polling well.What she needed to win was to campaign on all the terrible damage the Democrats had done to that state and stand unequivocally for the opposite: conservative small government. She needed to propose specific programs to be cut and income tax reductions necessary to create a more business-friendly environment. And she needed to tell the truth: that politicians, of either party, who promise the moon are peddling a load of crap.
In short, she needed to give voters credit for having functioning brains, and treat them that way.
So what did they do instead, these geniuses running her campaign? They fell back on the GOP Establishment’s playbook. Since Connecticut is a “liberal” state, they tried to out pander the Democrats, as if that’s humanly possible. The message became not only is Linda not Tea Party, she’s not even really conservative. They actually started running spots of people saying, “I’m voting for Barack Obama and Linda McMahon—because Linda McMahon cares.” They put out literature linking Linda and Obama even more closely—and then distributed it only in minority neighborhoods.
It was sickening, a totally fraudulent, bs campaign that believed in nothing and treated voters, and especially minority voters, like sub-morons.
Naturally, our base was furious. Out where I was, people saw this crap and started ripping down their pro-Linda signs, and telling me there was no way they were going to vote for her. When I’d report this to higher-ups, the attitude was: “Where else are they gonna go? Are they going to vote for a Democrat?”
Well, on Election Day, a lot of them didn’t go anywhere—including out of their homes to vote. The Democrat won by 12 points.
The bottom line? Desperate as it is to win elections, the Republican Establishment has zero interest in what drives the rest of us—changing the culture and setting the course of the country.