At the height of the summer, as a number of prominent Republican politicians urged their constituents to take the Covid-19 vaccine, one right-wing media personality refused to fall in line: Charlie Kirk, a pundit in his late twenties who leads the conservative campus-outreach group Turning Point USA. “At Turning Point ... we are going to give everything we have to make sure that students are not going to have to live in a medical apartheid because they don’t want to get the vaccine,” Kirk announced on Tucker Carlson’s TV show.
Much like his fellow millennial trolls Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos, Kirk rose to prominence on the back of the Obama-era campus free-speech wars, and founded Turning Point with seed money from, among others, investor Foster Friess and Schlitz beer scion Richard Uihlein. At the start, Turning Point sought to win undergrad hearts and minds—it created a “Professor Watchlist” designed to shame teachers who spout liberal orthodoxy, and spearheaded a number of campus protests and actions, including one at Kent State University wherein chapter members protested safe spaces by wearing diapers.
Over the course of the Trump presidency, though, the organization foundered in its efforts to indoctrinate the most left-leaning generation of young people in history, and Kirk rebranded as a kind of under-thirties ambassador for Trump himself. By the time Trump ran for reelection last year, Kirk’s organization had become little more than an arm of the president’s campaign.
If Kirk’s virulent anti-vax rhetoric reflects his own evolution from campus free-speech warrior to Trump lackey, it also reflects the extent to which the base of the conservative movement has narrowed in recent years. According to one poll, less than a fifth of Americans and fewer than a third of Republicans say they will never get the vaccine. No matter—the principal task for pundit-operatives like Kirk is not so much to create disciples or persuade the undecided as it is to rack up partisan points with a well-placed and intractable minority. The more Kirk plays up problems with the vaccines that Biden is pushing, the worse Biden looks; by the same token, if the Delta variant draws out the pandemic and stalls the economic recovery, the current administration’s approval ratings may sink. That Kirk would stake out what amounts to a pro-death position shows how well he has learned the lessons of today’s Republican Party: Everything is a campaign, and one need only preach to the already converted.