Here’s What Conservative Institutional Capture Looks Like

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Tuesday, January 23, 2024

If you are on the political right and want to change institutions, your best bet is to think like a private equity firm: take it over, restructure from the top, and be indifferent to the squawking about the changes. This isn’t always easy to do, of course. But as the case of state universities show, red state governments actually have the ability to do a lot of things they are not actually doing.

One of the principles I keep highlighting between left and right is asymmetry.

The left and right have different values, operate in different ways, and are in different positions in society.

Hence, if you are on the right, you have to remember that what worked for the left won’t work for you. You need to use different tactics.

Yes, there are some techniques that are available to anyone, but it doesn’t work to simply read Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and think you can make those same rules work for you.

Today I want to highlight that institutional capture works completely differently for the right vs. the left.

The left seems to do well at burrowing into organizations, working their way into positions of authority or leverage, and then using those to transform the institution from the inside out.

People on the left typically don’t care about the actual mission of the organization. In fact, they frequently think the organization has a bad mission, and that it’s their job to change that. Hence, they can devote all of their efforts to institutional capture and transformation. Conservatives are often bad at stopping this because they are more interested in the mission than organizational politics.

This left approach is sometimes called the “long march through the institutions.”

Some people have advocated that conservatives try to do the same thing. However, it’s highly unlikely to work. For one thing, left controlled institutions are not dumb enough to let conservatives in the door, or allow them to do any sort of subversion. And by nature, few conservatives have the interest, conscience, or stomach for successfully capturing institutions from the inside.

However, there’s a right wing version of institutional capture. Rather than attempting a bottom up project of capture and infiltration, the right wing model is a top down restructuring of an institution modeled on a private equity approach.

The way someone on the right captures and restructures a failing institution is to take it over from the top, the way a private equity firm would buy out an underperforming company, and then reform the organization to function well and on mission.

I will highlight some examples of this.

The first is what Ron DeSantis is doing at New College of Florida (NCF). In many states, governors nominally control state universities because they appoint a majority of the board. But most of them stuff those boards full of milquetoast cronies who rubber stamp what the administration wants and even enthusiastically support the administration in empire building endeavors.

DeSantis saw an opportunity with NCF. It would be very politically challenging to try to shake up, say, Florida State. But NCF was a very small, liberal arts type public school without a high profile. Thus it was a good test bed for his approach.

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