Unless you are a political junkie, you may not know the name Erick Erickson. But my guess is that over time most people will come to know not only his name but what he symbolizes -- the next generation of conservative leadership in America. And what a direction that could prove to be.
I've had the opportunity over the years to know and observe some pretty obscure names that ended up making their way to the top of politics. That includes a once-unknown congressman named Newt Gingrich.
Erickson, who runs one of the most influential conservative blogs in America, RedState, has been on my radar screen for more than a year. With his recent appearance on TV's popular "Colbert Report," Erickson is emerging from the blogosphere and into a whole new world of prominence.
Having done "funny" political shows like Bill Maher's, I have a sense of the challenge it is for a conservative to match wits with talented pros that are almost certainly on the political left. It isn't easy. But Erickson did just that, despite Colbert's efforts to paint him in an unfavorable light by citing some of the blogmaster's more controversial web postings.
The point is that just a few years ago, blogs were thought of as a medium for political hacks and wackos to post whatever railings or other blather they felt like. Now blogs have morphed into a respected and influential way for those with political interests to both test and change the temperature of the political waters.
Conservatives already have established websites for their opinions, such as Townhall and Human Events, plus other sites that contain news and opinion, such as Newsmax. And there are plenty of liberal sites, such as the combination of news and opinion offered by the likes of The Huffington Post and Daily Kos.
Erickson was a practicing attorney when he started RedState more or less as a part-time hobby, and the website he formulated is a bit different. There are no syndicated columns or names of veteran news journalists on RedState, or on a sister site he runs in his home state of Georgia. Instead, Erickson and a handpicked group of other regular bloggers post stories, observations and grapevine-variety news with lightening speed.
Occasionally, the posts might be speculative or only partially correct -- and once in a while even profane. But Erickson and his band of bloggers generally get the drift of where things are headed politically long before the established news organizations, which are largely bound by tradition to get hard-and-fast confirmations before publishing stories.
The impact that sites like RedState and people like Erickson will have on the next Republican presidential contest cannot be underestimated. It's true that much of what his websites cover might seem to be inside baseball and doesn't necessarily impact the broader public. (As a pollster, I can tell you that little of anything moves public opinion these days!) Yet the political players that help shape policy and the direction of the conservative movement follow his every word.
Erickson and his conservative brethren are the next generation of Republicans. Essentially, they want one thing: genuine Republicans as their candidates and elected officials. They are neither cowered by nor tolerant of the silk-stocking establishment GOP that says what conservative voters want to hear, only to join in on big government spending sprees once elected.
Erickson and his ilk want elected officials who aren't in it for the perks. They comprise a sophisticated new wave of Republicans that is replacing those of us who in 1980 were the ground troops in what became the Reagan Revolution and, by 1994, the operatives that helped Gingrich and his fellow Republicans take over the U.S. House.
Yes, these new "journalists" will likely have to be a bit more circumspect in what they write and how they express themselves. (Unfiltered words can get you in a libel suit quickly.) From what I've seen, though, Erickson is becoming increasingly savvy without losing the punch and the fire that makes his web creation so noteworthy.
My guess is that by the next presidential election, when conservatives, Republicans and Libertarians all check their usual well-established news and opinion sites every day (or every hour), they will have added to that list RedState and the opinions of Erick Erickson. He looks to be to be one of the next generation of true Republicans to whom the torch has been passed. Let's hope he uses that influence wisely and gets a very confused Republican Party turned around.