From College Socialist to Conservative Journalist

August 6, 2013 | By Carol Wehe

The son of a “hippie vagabond” and a New York City journalist, Lachlan Markay grew up surrounded by liberals, argued his way to conservatism in college, and has become a staple in the conservative world as a journalist and lecturer across the United States.

A self-described “proud Yankee,” Lachlan grew up in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut – states not exactly known for their conservatism.

“I like to think I’m a product of the American melting pot,” said Lachlan, whose roots come from New York Jews on his dad’s side and Wisconsin Catholics on his mom’s side.

His parents’ stories still fascinate Lachlan. 

“My dad was a Kerouacian hippie vagabond for years,” said Lachlan. “The day after he graduated from high school, he hitchhiked from Long Island to Leadville, CO, where he worked in a mine for five or six years, before hitching back east to Maine.”

Then there’s his mother, a journalist who joined Newsweek at the bottom rung and “worked her way up… to a prominent spot in their NYC newsroom,” said Lachlan. 

Lachlan gets his adventurous side from his father, and his love of journalism from his mother.

“My love and reverence for my family has really shaped who I am and continues to influence me,” said Lachlan.

But, family isn’t where Lachlan found his conservatism – his liberal college pushed him toward the right.



“I was…a liberal,” said Lachlan. “Socialist might be more accurate.”

He was surrounded by liberal thought at Hamilton College, where neither faculty nor students questioned their “knee-jerk” liberal philosophy.   And that bothered Lachlan.

“No thinking was required, and few of my peers could actually defend their political views,” said Lachlan.  “That irked me, so I'd take every chance I could to challenge them, often taking positions with which I didn't necessarily agree.”

A contrarian by nature, Lachlan challenged the status quo. 

“It was a combination, I think, of my affinity for arguing and my late exposure to conservative political thought that spurred the transition.”

During his college years, Lachlan started studying conservative and libertarian philosophers.

“Burke, Kirk, Buckley, Hayek, Nozick, Friedman, Strauss – theirs were ideas I'd never been exposed to,” said Lachlan, “and I quickly realized that I agreed with many of them.”

During his political transformation as a junior in college, Lachlan followed his mother’s footsteps, turning to journalism.  It started with an internship and, in the end, “I wanted to write for a living,” said Lachlan, “but do so in a way that comported with and/or advanced my views.”

He helped start a student newspaper, Dexter, at Hamilton College.

After college, Lachlan went on to work in the D.C. area as a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org, the media watchdog site, and posted to the Washington Examiner’s Opinion Zone blog. 

He became an investigative journalist at The Heritage Foundation in 2011.  Much of his work can be found at Heritage’s blog Scribe.

Lachlan now works for the Washington Free Beacon on topics ranging from energy policy to campaign finance to government spending.

Lachlan’s advice to aspiring journalists and bloggers hits home for many activists.

“It sounds harsh,” he said, “but no one cares about your opinion. If you want people to read what you write, add something new to the conversation. Do some reporting.  Pick up the phone (please!) and call the people you want to write about.”

When he’s not investigating, on the news, or appearing on Red Alert Politics’ 30 Under 30 list, Lachlan spends his time lecturing across the country for center-right organizations.  He has spoken at conferences and trainings for The Heritage Foundation, FreedomWorks, Americans For Prosperity, the Franklin Center, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies, and of course the Leadership Institute, to name a few.

Lachlan says “helping folks learn the tools of the trade…has been really rewarding.”

Lachlan has lectured at the Leadership Institute since 2010, serving as faculty at the Writing Workshop, Blogging Workshops, and at LI’s recent webinar.

“When I went into my first LI training session, I assumed I'd be speaking with college students and other 20-somethings. I was pleasantly surprised to see a wide range of ages. This was during the heart of the tea party's meteoric political rise, so it was great to see people from all walks of life getting involved and really trying to learn skills that would help them advance the cause,” he said.

“If you need to learn the basics,” he continued, “take an LI course. If you want more advanced training, take a Leadership Institute course. If you're just curious about how to be more effective, take an LI course. There's really no political skill that you can't learn or improve upon through LI's programs.”

You can learn more about training, and watch Lachlan’s most recent LI appearance in the webinar Secrets to Success at LI’s website.

Please congratulate Lachlan Markay on his work as an investigative journalist and training conservative activists, and please applaud him for receiving LI’s Conservative Leader Award.

To nominate a Leadership Institute graduate or faculty member for the Conservative Leader Award or Conservative Leader-In-Training Award where they will have an article written about them, please contact LI's Director of External Affairs Lauren Day, at Lauren@LeadershipInstitute.org.