A persistent problem within the conservative movement in America has always been one of division: what exactly are conservatives trying to conserve? In the case of the modern Republican Party, such struggle is self-evident.
Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the Oval Office revitalized an intellectual frontier of conservatism all too often misunderstood and ignored. Whether or not he did this advertently is ultimately irrelevant. For the first time in a long time, there exists a formidable caucus among conservatives, both in Washington and other areas of American politics, that are in the business of actually trying to conserve the American nation state.
But what does that mean? Different conservatives will give you different answers, and for the most part, so be it. Conservatism is generally an anti-ideological philosophy at heart, and the absence of a single unifying manifesto keeps the spirit of intellectual diversity and civil discourse within the movement alive. Conservatives, after all, are allowed to disagree with one another.
At the same time, though, all conservatives should be able to have an open and honest discussion about political tactfulness, and whether or not we ought to consider some of those who claim to be conservative, well, actual conservatives. Claudia Tenney’s political campaign for New York’s then-23rd District embraced the America First politics of Donald Trump, and she was then promptly rewarded with an endorsement from the former president himself.
But Tenney, as we will see, is a glowing example of a serious issue within the conservative movement that threatens its viability in American politics. Tenney is among the sizable number of Republicans who will embrace Trump’s rhetoric, his flair, or showmanship on the campaign trail solely for the sake of their own election prospects. Those active on social media will often use the word “grifting” to describe this behavior, and those who do said grifting—the grifters—often maintain their long-established presence in Washington at the expense and frustration of conservative voters.
Heavily romanticized promises are often made by these candidates, which are further peppered with populist buzzwords such as “American First,” something something “sovereignty,” something something “let’s take our country back!” But when they’re finally elected to Congress, and are afforded all the regular luxuries and perks that an elected representative in Washington naturally has, those promises are quickly steamrolled by the congressional hivemind, and conservatives are once again compelled into a fit of frustration over “real conservatives” versus the RINOs.
The district map for New York’s House delegates has changed, and with new borders, Claudia Tenney now intends to run for the seat in NY-24, but her record in Congress, as opposed to all her campaign promises, speaks for itself.
Tenney was one of 23 Republicans who, in July 2017, voted against a bill which would have prevented the use of taxpayer dollars from going towards gender reassignment surgeries in the military. In February 2021, Tenney was one of only 21 Republicans to co-sponsor the “Fairness For All Act” which would allow anyone to use bathrooms, pools, spas, and fitness centers in accordance with their gender identity, even if at odds with their biological sex.
Ironically, on July 7th, at a GOP endorsement meeting in Seneca Falls, New York, she claimed that she “doesn’t support biological males serving in womens’ sports” and that “the bill wasn’t totally clear.” But the first paragraph of the bill states that it is designed “to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” (Emphasis added)
Under Section 2 of the bill, it reads that “Section 201 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000a) is amended” to include “sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” Unless Tenney didn’t read the bill that she had co-sponsored, it ought to be quite clear to her that such legislation was designed to codify gender ideology into federal law.
A year after originally co-sponsoring the bill, Tenney withdrew it this February, a couple days after announcing that she would be running in New York’s redrawn 23rd Congressional District. Rather than run in the 23rd, however, Tenney is now facing Mario Fratto in the 24th.
Ironically, the latest press release on her site is titled “Tenney Joins Zeldin, Stefanik, NY Republicans in Urging Hochul to Stop Incentivizing Illegal Immigration.” Yet, in March 2021, she voted for a bill which would allow illegal immigrants working as agricultural workers to get green cards.
Tenney also voted in favor of a defense bill in September 2021 which includes a red flag provision authorizing military courts to issue orders restraining military personnel from “possessing, receiving, or otherwise accessing a firearm.”
Tenney currently lives in and represents New York’s 22nd congressional district. Her current voter registration is in Utica, approximately 50 miles away from any border of the 24th district, and lives almost 100 miles away from most voters in that district.
In 2020, Tenney won in the 22nd district by a mere 109 votes after a recount, whereas Trump on the other hand won the district by 16 points in 2016. The district was one of 31 Democratic-held U.S. House districts that Trump won that year.
Tenney plays the part of being a staunch conservative quite well, and attacks her Republican opponent, Mario Fratto, for being “far-right,” might work for some Democrats and liberal Republicans, but frustrated conservative voters are able to recognize such tactics.
Luke Lattanzi and Yaakov Strasberg contributed to this report