What distinguishes Ben Shapiro from other pundits is of consequence to the future of conservatism.
The wake of the 2016 presidential election has obviated at least one trend to those on both sides of the aisle: political polarization shows no sign of relenting. An energized youth reflects this sentiment, with college campuses serving as a hyperbolic microcosm of our current political climate. As The Arch Conservative’s own J. Thomas Perdue observed in the 2017 Summer Edition cover story, “The Shapiro Effect,” “…it seems that the collegiate extension of the left vs. right culture war is now decisively one-sided. Conservative speakers are often shouted down and disrupted, if they are even allowed a platform at all.”
No conservative speaker is more familiar with the phenomenon than Ben Shapiro. Not one to give ground, the unapologetic hardliner has made headlines defending his right to speak at universities imbued by Leftist authoritarianism. The response to Shapiro from young conservatives continues to be overwhelmingly positive. A demographic long thought lost to the Left, college-aged individuals are responding to the Harvard Law graduate with resounding enthusiasm. Take note, GOP, at exactly what distinguishes this young conservative pundit from the pack: exposure, perspective, and form.
At 33 years old, Shapiro has an intimate understanding of how the millennial generation and younger folks on the cusp consume information. Unsurprisingly, his strategy focuses on leveraging new media. While he does frequently appear on mainstream media TV programs, Shapiro’s primary platform is The Daily Wire, a news and opinion website where he serves as Editor-in-Chief and which maintains an active social media presence. His Twitter account demonstrates a knack for witty and spirited banter, occasionally provocative and always entertaining.
It is in the new world of podcasting, though, that Shapiro has truly made his mark. The Ben Shapiro Show is the #1 conservative podcast in the nation, with millennials comprising a majority of the listener demographic. In establishing a strong foothold in growing media sources driven by younger audiences, Shapiro has created exposure for an ideology typically dismissed by those same younger demographics.
Still, it is not simply Shapiro’s skillful use of new channels of communication that has sold millennials on his ideas, but rather the ideas themselves. His perspectives are formed by a pragmatic, logical framework closely aligned with traditional values. Refusing to compromise on the fundamental tenets of conservatism, Shapiro is known for his intellectual honesty and vocal opposition to many of President Trump’s policies. This lends him further validity in the eyes of millennials, who disapprove of the president in substantial numbers.
Perhaps most importantly, young people are rallying around Shapiro because he is precisely the type of constitutional thinker needed to challenge the aforementioned suppression of free speech by the collegiate Left. Many millennials are simply fed up with Leftist bullying, which is characterized by nonsensical notions of “microaggressions” and “safe spaces,” and Shapiro offers an eloquent deconstruction of those arguments to his audience.
Now, while these features have certainly contributed to Shapiro’s popularity, they are not entirely unique. Many pundits effectively embody the principles of conservatism and relay their message through digital media to reach younger audiences. What has truly propelled Ben Shapiro to massive success is the compelling style with which he argues.
In a debate setting, next to no one stands a chance. He thinks faster and with more lucidity than his opponents, such that they often fail to keep up. His ability to spontaneously recall data and cite studies as evidence for his claims frequently leaves those on the Left baffled. Although aggressive in his speech, Shapiro is a master of placing Leftists on the defensive–a rhetorical tactic as entertaining as it is effective, and one to which conservatives too often fall prey in similar settings.
Simultaneously widely acclaimed and highly controversial, Ben Shapiro’s climb to conservative superstardom tells an interesting story–most obviously that there remains a meaningful divide between those threatened by free speech and those fighting to defend that right. Furthermore, it might suggest that the millennial demographic is more nuanced than usually thought. Perhaps a significant portion of young people are tired of a self-righteous Left that attempts to silence those whose opinions are based not in feeling, but in fact.
Lastly, Shapiro’s resonant message to millennials may indicate a growing appreciation of the merits of conservatism; a validation of traditional values regularly misunderstood by younger generations; and, possibly, an ideology and cause worth putting on the offensive. Keep him in mind when seeking out a new and refreshing conservative voice.
This piece was adapted from an article by the same name in the Fall of 2017 edition of The Arch Conservative in print. Grab a copy at our Tate or Main Library distribution boxes or subscribe by clicking the tab above.
—Will Brown is a senior studying finance. He is a regular contributor to The Arch Conservative.