Narrowing the Millennial Gap

Young Conservatives need a better publicist, or should I say a better blogger? For far too long the political parties have taken us for granted. Most assume we won’t vote, and even if we did, we’re sure to be Democrats. Republicans seemed content to win older demographics and hope that we would see the red-tinged light as we aged.

After years of being the red-headed step child of politics 2008 was our coming out party. Unfortunately, Republicans had very little to celebrate. The first to truly capture the importance of Twitter, Facebook, and iPhones, the Obama campaign created an excitement amongst Millennials. Again, the Republican Party seemed willing to play the waiting game, confident they would win young adults’ hearts and minds as they grew older.

After a weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference it was clear Republicans have seen the light on the importance of young adults. As one regular CPAC attendee said,

“I’ve been coming to these for years. This used to be a convention of blue hairs; now it has youthful energy.”

But CPAC is merely the latest symptom of a viral growth in youth support for the conservative movement. Just two years ago, at the height of Obama’s popularity, the Democratic advantage in party affiliation among young voters reached 62% to 30%. This 32% margin was reflective of Obama margin of victory in the 2008 presidential election in which he defeated John McCain amongst young adults by a whopping 68% to 30% margin.

But the tides are turning. A recent Pew Research study found that,

“The “Millennial Generation” of young voters played a big role in the resurgence of the Democratic Party in the 2006 and 2008 elections, but their attachment to the Democratic Party weakened markedly over the course of 2009.”

Beyond the short term benefit of picking up votes in the crucial 2010 midterm elections, the shift represents the ability for Republicans to grow the next generation of conservatives. Contrary to the “wait till their older” approach, studies show that a person’s party identification, once formed, remains remarkably stable. As the influential study “The American Voter” found,

“Persons who identify with one of the parties typically have held the same partisan tie for all or most of their adults lives.”

This surprising truth bears out in the course of history. For instance as political scientist Norman Orstein writes,

“All the research done on the dramatic Democratic realignment of the 1930s shows that the key was young voters, coming of age as the Depression hit, influenced deeply by the contrast between Hoover and Roosevelt . . . those voters became lifelong Democrats.”

A similar trend happened in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan captured the hearts of young adults with a patriotic excitement that extolled American exceptionalism. Those same voters played an enormous part in the Republican Revolution of 1994 and remain the Republican party’s strongest age cohort.

The stability of young voter’s ideology combined with Obama’s landslide victory should have spelled long term trouble for the Republican brand. But we’ve bounced back. As the Pew Research study shows,

29 percent of Millennials describe themselves as liberals, 28 percent say they are conservatives and 40 percent identify themselves as moderates.

This snapshot ignores the momentum that is definitely on the side of conservatives. By focusing on issues that resonate with younger adults – small government and lower spending – Republicans have a chance to create a base of support for years to come. The enthusiasm is there. Spending a day walking the halls of CPAC would tell you that. More importantly, walking the halls of a college campus would tell you that. College Republicans have seen an enormous uptick and support. As a College Republican leader told me this past week, “Barack Obama has been the best thing for recruitment we’ve seen.” Beyond being a divisive figure, Obama has engaged young people in a way other presidents haven’t. But political engagement is only half the equation and College Republicans have cultivated that newfound interest into conservative momentum. We are not only the voice of young conservatives…we are future of the party.

- Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee

The Mount Vernon Statement, A Poor Man’s Manifesto… VERY Poor

A group made up of some of the biggest names in contemporary conservatism got together a few days ago and crafted what they are calling the “Mount Vernon Statement,” a manifesto of sorts meant to give direction to today’s conservative movement. Put succinctly, it fails to fill the bill.

Taken as a whole this statement is fine as a short history lesson. It explains pretty clearly what the founders had wrought when their basic work was done with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. But as a statement of principles that might guide today’s discussion I do not think the letter works.

Why Ron Paul's CPAC Victory is Good for the Movement

The response to Ron Paul's CPAC straw poll win ranged somewhere between dismay and outright panic. Let me offer a contrarian take. 

I have written in recent years about CPAC being an insular affair -- a trade show for Beltway conservative groups, but little more. The vibe I picked up at this year's CPAC was a little different -- more students, more grassroots, more friends from outside the Beltway making the trip. Matt Lewis has an astute take on this shift: 

 

CPAC director Lisa De Pasquale told me: "Our pre-registration numbers were 20 percent above last year's. We're expecting over 10,000 attendees and more than half of them are college students. I think it really speaks to the excitement and energy in the conservative movement right now."

One seasoned CPAC veteran, who asked not be named, bluntly told me, "I've been coming to these for years. This used to be a convention of blue hairs; now it has youthful energy." If you're a conservative -- as I am -- it was nice to see fresh young faces, who attend at a greatly reduced price. "Blue dog" Democrats are one thing, blue-haired Republicans are quite another.

 

It shouldn't be too surprising then, that a group outside the normal circles of conservative influence was able to out-hustle and out-organize, and win the straw poll on dramatically increased turnout. Across the board, lots of new people are getting involved in the movement (see: tea parties), creating fertile ground for a seismic shift in the results. 

While I won't necessarily be rooting for a Paul 2012 candidacy, I *like* the fact that CPAC was shaken up, for two big reasons. 

First, it shows that Ron Paul and the Campaign for Liberty are engaging constructively in the conservative movement. In 2007, the Paulites were an oppositional force trying to submarine the GOP's commitment to the war on terror, thus threatening traditional conservatives. Today, libertarians and conservatives have come together against Obama's endless expansion of the State, with Ron Paul supporters supplying creative organizing tactics and boots on the ground. 

This leads into my second reason: in terms of grassroots organization, Paul supporters are some of the best -- if not the best -- that we have. The iconography of the tea party movement is heavily libertarian (think the Gadsden Flag) and that's no coincidence. If you broke down the organizers and even those in attendance, you'd find more than your fair share of Ron Paul supporters. 

This is a categorical shift that's happened in the last year. Remember when the image of conservatives in the political arena was that of dutiful salaried workers with families and limited time to engage in the kind of direct political protest perfected by ACORN and MoveOn.org? That image has been turned on its head by the tea parties and 9/12 protests. And I think that's due in no small measure to the influence of libertarians, who've been more willing to employ bold tactics conventionally thought of as leftist (but effective). 

In terms of organizing, conservatives can learn a lot from libertarians. Online, the moneybomb concept originally pioneered during the Ron Paul campaign has started to work for more conventional Republicans like Scott Brown. 

The 2008 Ron Paul campaign can be compared to the 1988 Pat Robertson campaign in helping a movement find its way into the Republican Party and thus establishing itself as a permanent fixture in the party. Like Robertson, Paul did not come anywhere near capturing the nomination, but the influence of Christian conservatives -- and now libertarians -- endures. 

CPAC Straw Poll Results

in

Here are the presidential numbers: 

  • 22% Mitt Romney
  • 7% Sarah Palin
  • 31% Ron Paul
  • 6% Tim Pawlenty
  • 5% Mike Pence
  • 4% New Gingrich
  • 4% Mike Huckabee

Full results here

2,395 CPAC registrants voted.  50 states plus DC represented in the balloting. Only registrants can vote. 

48 percent of the respondents were students, 32 percent identified as individuals. 13 percent sponsors and cosponsors. 

CPAC Report #2: Mitt Romney

in

Big cheers for Scott Brown as he walked on stage to introduce Mitt Romney.

"I'm the newly elected Republican Senator from Massachusetts," opened Brown.

There was a lot of enthusiasm for Romney, but not nearly as much as for Brown.

Romney reported that the medal awarded to one of our Olympic heroes (Lindsey Vaughn?) was stripped because Obama is going downhill faster than she did.

Initial report from CPAC 2010: Marco Rubio

in

My first blog entry for CPAC 2008 (on a now-defunct website) was entitled “Conservative Roadkill.” Even before Mitt Romney and Ron Paul dropped their presidential aspirations during the event, it was apparent that John McCain would win the GOP nomination, leading to an eventual Democratic win. This year at CPAC, I’m at a totally different event. More people, more excitement, and more importantly: The younger people here actually understand and are excited about a conservative or libertarian message.

David Walker for...?

Here's a thought that arose from a conversation I just had with Jon Ward of the Daily Caller: David M. Walker - about whom Ward recently did a story - was "Comptroller General of the United States and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) for almost ten years", appointed by 3 different Presidents.  Since leaving that job, he has gone to the Peterson Foundation, where he has focused on the looming fiscal and debt crisis.  Beginning in 2005 (while he was at GAO), Walker began traveling across the country (alongside Brookings, Heritage and the Concord Coalition) on the Fiscal Wake-up Tour. So...

  • David Walker has been warning about the looming fiscal crisis for years now, so he is ahead of the issue that is driving US politics for the forseeable future.
  • He has worked across ideological and party lines, so he has independent credibility.
  • He has real ideas for how to address the problem.
  • He has traveled to 46 States selling the message.

I smell an incredibly compelling Vice Presidential pick.

Spontaneity is Overrated

The Demand Question Time petition -- now with more than 20,000 signatures -- has made it to the far reaches of President Obama's inner circle and GOP House leadership.  If you haven't signed yet, you should.

The responses to the petition indicate support from both parties on the merits, a more civil, open dialogue between our leaders in Washington. Let's talk, says President Obama.  Let’s talk, says Minority Whip Cantor. Let's talk, says Majority Leader Reid.

Yet, so far, since the appearance of President Obama at the House Republicans retreat on January 29, each party seems mostly to be talking amongst itself.

President Obama has embarked on a dialogue tour of sorts recently, stepping up his accessibility to the rank-and-file in his party.  In the three weeks since the retreat, Obama participated in a moderated CitizenTube interview with questions submitted on YouTube, conference call with DNC/Organizing for America members and made a rare appearance at the White House press briefing.

Since the 2008 election, Republicans have taken to YouTube as their conversation outlet -- 89 percent of congressional Republicans (compared to 74 percent of Democrats) have YouTube channels, according to a 2009 year-end report on CitizenTube. People are listening – the Republican channels draw more views with eight of the top 10 most-viewed and most-subscribed YouTube channels in Congress from the GOP.

As for regular question time, “The thing that made Friday interesting was the spontaneity," [President Obama's top advisor David] Axelrod told Politico. "If you slip into a kind of convention, then conventionality will overtake the freshness of that."

Boehner said about the retreat, “the president’s acknowledgment that he has read our policy proposals should stop every Democrat  … from repeating their discredited ‘party of no ideas’ talking point,” but as for Demand Question Time, “we’ll look at this proposal." Cantor meanwhile told NPR, “Absolutely,” we should do more of that.

This suggests that GOP leadership might consider a proposal that allows Republicans, who have little procedural power in Congress, to present ideas.

Last week, the President issued a challenge to Republicans to present ideas on health care at a "bi-partisan" health care summit. Republicans have ideas that they can’t get heard as the minority party in Congress. Does this summit meet the need for open, bi-partisan dialogue?

Not so fast. 

The White House has set the agenda with limits on how Republicans can approach the discussion. For example, off the table is the suggestion that the Democratic version of health care reform be scrapped for an incremental approach.  Senate GOP leadership and Boehner and Cantor are understandably skeptical about this summit as nothing more than an opportunity for the White House to strongarm leadership to pass their plan.

Today, they issued a call of their own, on the issue of their choosing, jobs.  This challenge targets the House Democratic leadership – who has yet to get in on the dialogue action – to a televised debate on how to address crippling unemployment rates.

So now we have arguments over how to argue and what to argue about. Two steps back it seems.

If there is hope for serious question time, spontaneous, scattershot events are not sufficient.  Without a commitment to a format, regular schedule and a fair set of terms, we are stuck with business as usual in Washington.  And business as usual right now is both uncivil and unpopular. 

Mr. Smith Defends the Filibuster

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington should be considered required viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in politics. The film – about an idealistic youth leader who suddenly finds himself appointed to the U.S. Senate – is the best example of how reality often does not stack up with our perceptions. Mr. Smith goes to Washington, his mouth agape at the majesty of the Capitol dome, his eyes wide with the grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial, but his mind appalled at the corruption of the people.

While fighting against a crooked back-door deal in the Senate he finds that his only weapon is the filibuster.

Republican Health Care Reform Ideas

Newt Gingrich and John C. Goodman list Ten GOP Health Ideas for Obama.  There's really too much to excerpt, so you'll have to read the whole thing for yourself.

My initial take: Some of these are very good ideas, some are less appealing.  But whatever their individual merits, it's hard to see an overarching "vision thing" in the proposals. It is tinkering.  Perhaps good tinkering, but it lacks a structural narrative that makes it easier to sell these as a package.

The GOP needs a much more comprehensive approach to entitlements in general, not just health care.  At this point, I think we need to do one of two things: Either....

  • Government as a Last Resort - Government can insure everybody for any yearly expenses over 20% of annual income, which completely eliminates the problem of unbearable costs, both for consumers and for insurers (and which ought to dramatically lower insurance costs, since the potential risk is far smaller).   That shouldn't have a major distortive effect on the market, either, because most catastrophic costs tend to be things about which we can't/don't often make good cost/benefit calculations.  This would also eliminate the need for Medicare/Medicaid, since this would automatically cover people who have little/no income. While there are undoubtedly problems with this, it seems on the whole better than a system that gets government involved at much lower decision and cost levels.  Or...
  • Government as a Safety Net - Restructure our entitlement system along the lines of what (if I recall correctly) Milton Friedman and Charles Murray have recommended: expand the EITC to cover basic costs of living on a means-tested basis, so we can predicate entitlements upon actual need, rather than blanket distribution.

In either case, I think you have a pretty strong, compelling message: Government should provide a safety net, not a straitjacket.  We are not going to let people fail completely, but safety nets should not catch people who do not fall.

These options would allow Republicans to strengthen the safety net for people who genuinely need it, while making the program more sustainable by removing the "safety net" for people who don't actually need one.  Importantly, this would also eliminate the "third rail" problem of entitlements, and we could actually begin making better cost/benefit decisions about them.

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