Left-wing ideologues who attempt to suppress conservative ideas on college campuses and in legislative chambers don’t genuinely believe in either unity or diversity despite what they say, former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said in an interview with The Daily Signal.

Walker, the new president of Young America’s Foundation, said such persons on the left mostly are interested in their own opinions.

“They profess diversity, but they’re not for diversity,” Walker told The Daily Signal in the interview just days before he took over the conservative youth organization Feb. 1. “What they’re for is their own opinion. They talk about unity, but what they mean is they want you to support what they believe and to affirm what they believe.”

Walker, 53, succeeds Ron Robinson, who served as president of the Young America’s Foundation for 43 years.

Under Robinson’s leadership, the Reston, Virginia-based foundation inaugurated student-oriented programming and seminars for high school- and college-age conservatives. 

Robinson, now 70, also oversaw the 1998 purchase and preservation of former President Ronald Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo near Santa Barbara, California, and acquisition of the Reston-based National Journalism Center in 2001, which runs training programs for aspiring journalists. The Reagan Ranch Center opened in Santa Barbara in 2006.

Young America’s Foundation merged in 2011 with Young Americans for Freedom, which was founded in 1960 at the Connecticut home of conservative writer and commentator William F. Buckley Jr., also founder of National Review magazine. 

In the aftermath of the 2020 elections, the rise of social media giants, and the “woke” movement’s assault on free speech, Walker sees an opportunity to build and expand on inroads Robinson made on college campuses and crucial media platforms. 

“Ron Robinson has been stellar for more than four decades,” the former Republican governor said. “He has built a phenomenally strong organization. So as a new leader, I’m not going to change what YAF does. My goal is to expand it, to compound its reach, and to go further.”

Although Young America’s Foundation has a presence on hundreds of campuses across the country, Walker said he would like to reach every college and establish stronger ties with more students in high school and junior high.

“We have to start with junior high and pre-teens, because that’s where the left is getting its foothold,” Walker said. “We want to have not just the most speakers, we want to have an overflow of conservative, freedom-loving speakers who are out across campuses all throughout the United States.”

Walker said YAF’s YouTube channel is approaching a half a billion hits, putting the organization in a strong position to push back against political correctness and “cancel culture” initiatives on campuses, which attempt to stifle free speech.

Despite the prominence of social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, Walker cited research and polling showing that YouTube is the No. 1 way that young Americans get their information.

“We want to own YouTube, not just among other conservative-leaning organizations,” he said. “We want to be the spot that young people of any persuasion go to for information.”

Gov. Scott Walker and his wife, Tonette, listen to YAF President Ron Robinson during a tour of the Reagan ranch in Santa Barbara, California, in November 2011. (Photo: Young America’s Foundation)

Lessons Learned From Goldwater to Reagan

In a separate interview, Robinson advised conservatives to put up a united front and seize the opportunity when the left targets First Amendment rights.

That’s how conservatives will prevail against contemporary threats to free speech posed by the “woke” movement, cancel culture, and the social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter, the longtime YAF president said.

“I think it’s scary what’s going on. And I for a long time thought, and to some extent I still do, that when the left attacks free speech, they’re making a strategic mistake,” Robinson told The Daily Signal. 

“People don’t want to give up their right to free speech,” he said. “People do not want to give up an exchange of ideas. Obviously, a segment of our society does, but I don’t think the vast majority of people want to do that.”

Looking back at his time as YAF president, Robinson can point to instances in which left-of-center elements on college campuses attempted to “freeze out” a Young America’s Foundation chapter or prevent a conservative commentator from speaking on campus.

“We were usually successful in overcoming this, and in fact, the very issue they were attempting to eliminate actually ensured that the conservative voice was heard in a much more profound way than otherwise would be the case,” Robinson said, adding:

It’s scary now because with reliance on social media, and some of the ways in which people communicate now, you can get knocked out of the internet. And there’s new ways to get away with it so that you can’t get enough attention to overcome it, like you can on a college campus. I do think the whole conservative movement needs to address this issue and it can’t just be segments of it. We all have to speak out on it and we still have a lot of tools like direct mail, talk shows, conservative talk radio, publications, and I think in fact you could say two or three television networks. I do think we’ll prevail.

With an eye toward history that reaches back to the time of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964, the subsequent electoral setback, the impact of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, the triumph of the Reagan presidency, and the end of the Cold War, Robinson has advice for contemporary conservatives.

‘Ways for Conservatives to Win’

Although there is certainly cause for concern with Joe Biden in the White House with a circle of advisers from the left, Robinson said, he finds that the conservative movement has more resources at its disposal than ever before.

“What our prior dark moments have taught us is that there are still ways for conservatives to win,” Robinson said. “We’ve added so many tools to our tool chest that we didn’t have before.”

Robinson points to Fox News Channel, Newsmax, One America News, Rush Limbaugh’s talk show, and YAF’s own YouTube channel to demonstrate that the movement has a much wider audience than it did when Goldwater, an Arizona Republican, helped launch modern conservatism.

“Conservatives are not a group to throw in the towel,” Robinson said. “If they were, they would have done it when Goldwater was crushed in 1964 and when we had a horrible Congress that fundamentally changed laws and brought in Great Society programs, which were a disaster.”

Looking ahead in anticipation of future student conferences, Walker said he finds cause for optimism that may be counterintuitive given the negative influences of the media and academia. 

Walker, who was Wisconsin’s governor from January 2011 until January 2019, said his visits to the Reagan ranch in California have provided added inspiration and cause for hope in the face of adversity.

“I came of age under Reagan and this influenced me not just as a conservative, but as an optimist and having a vibe,” Walker said. “I love going to the ranch because you can see why he loved it up there. There’s this big, wide-open space, and I think in many ways it gave him this sense of the untapped potential of the American people.”

So although the steady flow of liberal influences from Hollywood, pop culture, colleges and universities, textbooks, and curriculum may seem omniscient, Walker assumes a Reaganesque view of future possibilities.

“What the optimist in me says is if our young people are just overwhelmed with this radical, leftist socialist agenda, then I’m surprised they’re not all socialists,” Walker said. “Even though the numbers aren’t great, there’s still a reasonable number of young people who go through all this and have the good sense not to turn to socialism or communism.”

Ron Robinson meets in California with former President Ronald Reagan in 1993. (Photo: Young America’s Foundation)

Returning Power to Taxpayers

Despite harsh union opposition to him, Walker on June 5, 2012, became the only governor nationwide to survive a recall election. He then won reelection in 2014.

As governor, Walker gained national attention for proposing and implementing Wisconsin Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which passed the state Legislature and survived court challenges to become law in June 2011. 

It was 10 years ago this month that Walker first proposed Act 10, sparking protests in the state capital organized by public employee unions opposed to his efforts to reform collective bargaining. MacIver Institute, a free-market think tank in Wisconsin, published a report detailing more than $12 billion in savings to taxpayers made possible by Walker’s Act 10.

When he narrowly lost election to a third term in 2018, it was to Democrat Tony Evers, a leader of Wisconsin’s education establishment.

Walker recalls what it was like to defy the power and influence of union bosses, who bused in protesters from across the country.

“There were smaller groups that went beyond just protesting,” Walker said, adding:

They broke into the State Capitol building, they crashed windows, crawled through windows, and knocked down doors. They try to intimidate people because they’ve got this universe of forced membership and forced union dues. But what we did is we took power out of the hands of the big government union bosses and put it firmly in the hands of hardworking taxpayers and the people who they chose to run their local governments.

The lesson for conservatives, Walker said, is to not be intimidated after proposing bold reforms. 

Conservatives prevail, he said, when they press ahead against organized opposition so that the public can experience the benefit of large-scale reforms such as Act 10 that benefit average citizens.

The new president of Young America’s Foundation also recommends that younger conservatives look for ways to call out liberals who are dishonest and hypocritical in advancing the concept of diversity.

“The irony is the only diversity they are not open to is ideological diversity,” Walker said. “There are political science departments that don’t even have one right-of-center [professor] or even anywhere close to a moderate professor. Yet they profess all this diversity.”

‘An Important Message’

During the recall effort that failed to unseat Walker, he took notice of two bumper stickers with contradictory messages, which a newspaper photographed and published on its editorial page.

One sticker had the word “coexist” written with text that included religious symbols such as the cross and the star of David, and right next to it was a sticker that said: “Recall Scott Walker.” 

Walker said he wonders whether the activists and newspaper editors ever understood the irony of this juxtaposition.

Before taking his leave from YAF, Robinson said, he knew it was important that the organization’s next president not only be committed to conservative ideals but accustomed to “being in the limelight” and able to connect with young people.

“Scott Walker does all this and it’s a significant upgrade,” Robinson said. “The other issue is that a lot of conservative institutions wander philosophically as time goes on.”

He points to both the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation as examples of organizations that drifted from their founding principles.

“Having Scott Walker as the new president sends an important message and provides conservative supporters of Young America’s Foundation with important reassurances,” Robinson said.

Looking ahead, Walker will be able to call on another high-profile addition to the Young America’s Foundation team to help advance the cause of conservatism with a new generation of young students. YAF announced Feb. 5 that former Vice President Mike Pence would become YAF’s Ronald Reagan presidential scholar.

“Vice President Pence has been a stalwart defender of individual freedom, traditional values, free markets, and limited government throughout his career of distinguished service to our country,” Walker said in a press release announcing Pence’s role, adding:

Now, by partnering with YAF, the vice president will continue to attract new hearts and minds to the conservative cause, passing along the ideas of freedom—just as President Reagan did before, during, and after his time in office. Vice President Pence’s energy and enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan’s values has and will continue to inspire a new generation of young people.

Pence, who in an unrelated development also became a distinguished visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said in a public statement that he looked forward to the new role at YAF:

Throughout its 60-year history, Young America’s Foundation has been a bulwark of the conservative movement, advancing the cause of freedom and ensuring our future leaders embrace America’s founding principles and I am honored to join YAF as the Ronald Reagan presidential scholar. Long before I became vice president to President Donald Trump, the vision and leadership of Ronald Reagan inspired my youth and I am humbled to continue the work of advancing the conservative cause from a position bearing his name.