Grassroots or Astroturf? Inside the Republicans’ Rebranding as the “Parents Party”

In a suburban Virginia district, right-wing operatives get involved in local school board politics, with help from billionaire donors.

In the liberal suburbs of Fairfax County, Virginia, conservative parents like Carrie Lukas have come to local school board meetings to air their frustrations with the failures of the public school system during the Covid-19 pandemic. In late January, Lukas used her two minutes during public comment to criticize mask mandates and call for school privatization.

But when Lukas came to the microphone, she represented more than her family. As the president of a right-wing think tank called the Independent Women’s Forum, Lukas also advanced the interests of her billionaire donors: some of America’s wealthiest people who, for decades, have backed efforts to defund public schools, attack teachers unions, and undermine the scientific community.

The various crises in public education during the pandemic — both real and manufactured — have offered a prime opportunity for wealthy interests to advance this agenda. Meanwhile, Republicans nationwide hope that carrying the “parents party” mantle will help win over suburban voters and carry them back to power in national elections.

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