Monday, October 07, 2013

Debate and dissension on GOP's future will continue

College Republican National Committee's report on Millennial voters
College Republican National Committee's report on Millennial voters
(This article originally appeared on Virginia Politics on Demand on June 6, 2013.)

Like it or not, members of the Republican party and the conservative movement are engaged in a strenuous debate about the party's (and the movement's) future. The various factions of the movement that were first brought together under James Burnham's "fusionism" in the 1950s have split apart, reorganized, reconfigured, split again, redefined themselves, and reunited on numerous occasions over the past six decades.

Taft vs. Eisenhower, Goldwater vs. Scranton, Reagan vs. Bush (yes, Reagan vs. Bush), and Mitt Romney vs. practically everybody else were just the figureheads in a struggle that has included traditionalists, libertarians, isolationists, internationalists, anti-Communists, country-club Republicans, Eastern liberal elites, fiscal hawks, social conservatives, and all manner of single-issue advocates on topics ranging from the Second Amendment to free trade to sexual permissiveness to home schooling ad nauseum.

A few weeks ago, the Republican National Committee published its lengthy post-mortem analysis of what went wrong for the Republican Party in the 2012 presidential election. The results of the RNC's survey were not encouraging, and its prescriptions for improvement met with a range of responses from "meh!" to outrage.

This week, the College Republican National Committee brought out its own 95-page report on why the GOP fails to connect with the Millennial generation of voters aged 18 to 29. Among its findings: 58 percent of this age group get most of their news about current affairs from Facebook, while only 21 percent get their news through either talk radio or NPR. For fully a quarter of this cohort, the fact that the GOP is hostile toward marriage equality is a "deal breaker" -- they won't vote for Republican candidates regardless of their views on other issues.

As the Cato Institute's David Boaz summarizes the CRNC's report,
young voters are very much against excessive government spending (though they do support higher taxes on the wealthy) and are strongly in favor of gay marriage. They want to reform entitlements but see the Republican party as “closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned.”
Yesterday on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, the last GOP candidate elected to be lieutenant governor in the deeply-blue state of Maryland, gave his take on the current discussions:
The old way doesn't work. The old strategies don't work. I think Reince Priebus proved that. Surprisingly, he didn't learn from me when I was chairman that you can't go back to the old model, and you cannot have a strategy that has a conversation with a 21-year-old, you know, African-American entrepreneur at the same time you're having that conversation with a 35-year-old mother, white mother of two.

So, you know, the reality is the reality. You're not going to change that. So adapting, recognizing that those core ideas of individual liberty, opportunity, responsibility, freedom, matter to people. Now how they translate that in their everyday life is up to them, but we can lay out some broad policy views and principles that they can then pull into their lives and say, oh, yeah, I like the idea of, you know, having the freedom to choose where to send my kids to school and what that means for me as a parent, how that empowers me as a parent, versus being stuck with the old model of having to go to the failing school in the neighborhood because it's in the neighborhood, and I live in that district.

So those are the types of opportunities and choices that I think are valuable to voters that I think the party needs to talk about and not losing sight of the fact that you raised about the numbers. In fact, I think that's the incentive to get off of the old stick and recognize the new opportunities.
In response to a listener's question, Steele specifically addressed how the GOP can win the votes of young people:
Millennials are changing the way we do politics. They deconstruct those old institutions. They break them out into pieces. And so their response to a problem is we can build an app for that.

We can create a universe of people that can generate action and activity around a particular issue without necessarily relying on these old institutions and these old strategies. We can bring something fresh to feeding people, clothing people, employing people. And I think that that's going to be very definitional for both parties. I think is uniquely opportunistic for the Republican Party to grab that energy that was just released in the report, for example, that came out this week from the [College] Republican National Committee - that talks about these words and these terms that are very important to people and how we translate that.
Steele also had advice for Republican candidates running in Democratic areas:
[T]here's a way which I think Republicans in blue states do win, and I always say it: Just be yourself. Our values, our ideas, our principles align with voters when we lay them out for them in an open, honest way, without trying to cherry-pick or make them like us.

You know, Republicans should run in the communities as they find them, not as you want them to be or think they are. And the moment you sort of get past that pretense and that falsehood that, you know, everybody, you know, is with you because they're with the other guy, you can have a conversation about the things that matter. You can have a conversation about the things that matter to people, as opposed to matter to your party.
Virginia is the first post-2012 state where the GOP can test new messaging techniques and improve upon ways in which the Obama campaign capitalized on social media. Whether the Republican ticket in the Old Dominion wins big or loses big, there will be lessons to be learned -- as long as we're willing to pay attention.

And as far as "like it or not"? I like it.

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