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The rise and fall of right-wing influencers – tracked by TPUSA

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If you’re familiar with the band Turning Point USA, it might be because of an incident in 2019. President Donald Trump was appearing at an event hosted by TPUSA, delivering one of his standard one-way riffs on the politics and culture. Behind him, a screen displayed the presidential seal – except not really. The eagle in the center of the logo had been replaced by a two-headed bird torn from the coat of arms of Russia.

These are not the headlines that TPUSA or Trump hoped to generate.

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Despite this setback, TPUSA grew in influence over the ensuing years. Aiming to engage young people in right-wing politics, he regularly hosts talks with celebrities from the Republican Party and the conservative media world. And, as the group’s influence and self-confidence grew, its events became flashier.

This is what a TPUSA conference looked like in 2015.

And here is “AmericaFest” last year.

It’s just a whole other thing, fueled by big cash injections and the eagerness of TPUSA stalwarts like Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens to inject themselves into hot political conversations.

On Thursday, the group posted one of their now familiar promotions on the slates for their upcoming conference.

It’s a who’s-who of a particular cultural universe, from Charlie Kirk himself in the top left to former Trump administration staffer Kash Patel in the bottom right.

It’s a bit like those music festival posters that list a wide range of acts, big names plastered at the top but a long list to assure potential customers that they’re getting their money’s worth. It’s a very Trumpian approach to promotion: List enough things and you’ll probably come up with Something it might bring a potential pony follower.

These promotion cards have also shone in the history of TPUSA. Here’s one from 2018, with a more modest range – and more modest graphic design elements.

(This promotion may have been created by the designer who lost his job in the wake of the Russian Eagle debacle in 2019, but I digress.)

But consider what we have here. An organization, focused on increasing its footprint in right-wing culture over time…and doing so, successfully. An organization that isn’t ashamed of self-promotion either, regularly sharing lists of upcoming speakers to entice its audience. Seductions which necessarily reflect the marketability of the participating speakers in the eyes of TPUSA.

In other words, by collecting and analyzing these promotional slates, we can get a sense of the ebb and flow of power and appeal in the right-wing world over time.

So I did. I’ve made about 20 social media posts describing speaker lineups at upcoming events from 2018 to this year. I indexed where individual politicians, conservative media figures and other prominent figures appeared on the slate, generally taking my cues about significance from where Kirk himself was positioned.

And then, because the number of people on each slate varied over time, I rated the appearance of each person on each slate on a scale of 1 to 10. A rating of one meant the person appeared in the worst 10% slots (like Dennis Prager on the second slate above); a rating of 10 meant appearing in the top 10% (like Kirk to Donald Trump Jr. on the most recent list). I ignored TPUSA events that were geared towards specific demographics, as these tended to be weighted by members of that group.

Below is each person who appeared on one of the slates, where they were positioned and when.

Now let’s discuss what this tells us.

Let’s start with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He appeared on two slates, both promoting TPUSA’s conference in December 2020. And on both slates, he was in pole position at the top left.

Why? Because that was when he exaggerated Trump’s baseless claims about voter fraud. It was a good time – and a marker of loyalty to Trump himself by making him appear as a high profile guest. And then he was no longer included on any other list.

Meet Seb Gorka, the former Trump administration official turned fish oil pill salesman. He appeared on the slates in 2018 and 2019 but only once since. Gorka, it seems, is no longer a fashionable property.

This single appearance in 2021 is interesting, however. Here are three of the speaker lists promoting this year’s Student Action Summit.

That of June 1, 2021…

… July 16, the day before the summit begins.

Note that Gorka only appears on the middle one, second row from the far right. (It’s the 12th slot out of 18, so Gorka is rated a 5 for this slate.) But also notice how this slot changes. In the first list, he is occupied by Fox News host Jesse Watters. In the second, Watters is dropped for Gorka. In the third, he is back.

Or watch Jack Posobiec. (If you’re unfamiliar with some of these names, trust me: it’s fine.) It starts at third tier, third slot, kicks out at third tier sixth slot and ends up in the third row, fourth slot. Bigger than TPUSA’s Benny Johnson; less important than former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

McEnany appears a lot on these slates. His overall average slate location rating is 8.3, just above Eric Bolling and just below Sean Hannity.

One interesting thing about TPUSA lineups over time is that the mood changes. In the early lists, you have a lot of appearances from people like Mark Levin and Glenn Beck, commentators who aren’t known for their appeal to young people. Even Dinesh D’Souza, whose misleading voter fraud film captivated Trumpland this year, fell into disuse after the Trump era.

Another interesting thing about the slates: the chosen ones are often second or third. On average, people who held a position when they appeared on a list were rated at 5.6 – around the middle of the pack. That’s partly because Donald Trump has always been put in the top spot while other lesser-known officials, like Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), aren’t. (Donald’s average standing is 3.8.)

In all fairness? Politicians are indeed less attractive than media personalities. They often get the best rates just for sycophancy.

So who are the current TPUniverse stars? Of the slates available for all three conferences over the past year, the top five average slate locations (excluding TPUSA organizers) belong to McEnany, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Greg Gutfeld, and Donald Trump Jr. These are the people who TPUSA says are most likely to appeal to their target demographic, which, again, is ostensibly young people.

Congratulations to them. And to those mired in the bottom decile of slate positioning? Do not worry. It’s an honor to appear.



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