For many of us, the idea of a young Republican seems to defy logic. While they do exist, they are becoming scarce. Young college students who lean toward conservatism can hardly count on the Republican Party as it is. Around the country, college-aged conservatives have grown weary of the Republican Party’s time of wandering in the desert. The good news for them is that this problem can be solved, and Republicans can draw in those young people likely to give them the most effective and enthusiastic support.
Here are some things that Republicans can do to win back the young.
The Party should fire Michael Steele. The only ones happy with him right now are those on the left. After all, no one drives his party into the ground better than Steele. Scandal after scandal, financial mishap after financial mishap and the continuing erosion of donor support are Steele’s most visible accomplishments. Before the Republican Party does anything else, it has to get someone competent at the top.
Next, the Republican deference to the Tea Party needs to stop. Not only are Teabaggers around the country angry with the Republican Party, making them questionable allies, but their ability to draw out the worst of the conservative side is also a real threat to the Republican Party’s future. Their extreme brand of conservatism is dominating the political right. In the process they turn away moderate conservatives disgusted with the extremism. These moderates need a home, and the Republican Party should be standing by them, not following the Tea Party’s lead and demanding increasingly hard-line ideology of its members.
For all its claims of being inclusive to everyone on the right, the Republican Party seems to be conceding far too often to these radicals. For a good example of this, look not further than the New York 23rd district election last year. In that election, the Republican Party quickly threw its actual candidate under the bus in favor of the far more radical Tea Party-supported ultra-conservative candidate. In several districts the presence of a Tea Party candidate has led some Republicans to go hard right in order to compete for the base.
Most notably, John McCain has been trying to build up his conservative credentials to absurd lengths (he’s never considered himself a maverick – really?) in the hardest fought campaign for re-election he has had in his career. As the Tea Party challenges incumbent Republicans to be as conservative and extreme as possible, bipartisan negotiation becomes impossible (not that it was ever likely in the first place).
The sad news for the Republicans is that trying to imitate the Tea Party is probably not going to help them as much as they would like – the moderates will desert them and the Tea Party protestors are still out to get incumbents, so it’s hard to see how an alliance with the Tea Party is going to help Republicans in the long run.
It is time the Republican Party stop mixing conservative social policy with conservative economic policy. Most young Republicans would prefer a candidate that cuts taxes and spending and shows fiscal discipline. The Republican Party has not done this in the last decade.
Republicans have been good at trying to legislate morality, though, but the young Republicans aren’t too happy with that either. As time goes on, young Republicans and young Democrats alike are more likely to support the same “liberal” social policy (for example, gay marriage). If the Republican Party continues to rely on wedge issues based on holding back social progress, young Republicans may just sit the next few elections out.
If the Republican Party can get its act together, it will be able to tap into the same youthful energy that helped pushed President Obama into the White House.
At the moment they see a party they would like to support, but can’t due to its increasing hostility to anyone but hard-right conservatives, its hypocrisy with the budget and its overreliance on old, tired wedge issues to win elections.
Only when the Republican Party stops embarrassing itself and makes a serious effort to bring itself into the 21st century will the Republicans of the future lift it up to a legitimate opposition party.
Kerry Wakely is a second-year political science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.