If the Republican party were a patient in a hospital, the doctor would be admitting it for extensive testing. Reeling from the devastating loss in the 2020 presidential election, convulsing from the paroxysms induced by the January 6 Capitol riot, and desperately trying to redefine its core values in the shadows of Trump, the party of Abraham Lincoln is clinging to views that are increasingly out of step with changing demographics, as a cultural and political seachange wash over the American landscape.
I reject the idea that the Republican party is dead, or near death. It still narrowly controls the Senate and has a significant voice in the House of Representatives. And despite its most recent loss of executive power, the GOP has always managed to bounce back throughout the last several decades. Despite national polls showing the decline of Republican appeal and sway, elections have painted a different reality. David Harsanyi of the National Review makes the following case:
In 1998, a mere 40 percent of voters leaned or called themselves Republicans. In the 1998 and 2000 elections, both closely contested, Republicans held on to both houses of Congress.
In 2008, Republicans hit another record low of 39 percent. Intellectuals began writing books with titles such as The Death of Conservatism, and reporters began pondering the implications of a nation without an opposition party. In 2010, the GOP won 63 seats in the House — beating 1994 to become the biggest shift in Congress since the 1948 elections — and seven seats in the Senate. Republicans spent the next eight years accruing historic gains in state legislatures and governorships across the country.
In 2012, again, only 40 percent of Americans identified as Republicans, the lowest level until today. In 2014, the GOP gained nine seats in the Senate, the largest increase in 32 years by any party, and picked up another 13 seats in the House, holding their largest majority since the early 1930s.
Still, there are tell-tale signs that the body Republican seems to be ignoring at its own peril. The demographer Dudley L. Poston points out: “Whites will have dropped to 55.8% of the population, and Hispanics will have grown to 21.1%. The percentage of black and Asian Americans will also grow significantly. So between now and 2030, whites as a proportion of the population will get smaller, and the minority race groups will all keep getting bigger. Eventually, whites will become a minority, dropping below 50% of the U.S. population in around the year of 2045.”
This diversification of the United States means that core values, for better or worse, are beginning to not only shift, but gain momentum. And as our electorate slowly but surely gets older, mostly driven by an aging Babyboomer bloc, they are being replaced by a younger generation, namely Millenials and Generation Z. This group of racially diverse voters, despite the cynicism pervading our country about politics, is increasingly politically and civically engaged.
As indicated in a poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School, “despite the state of our politics, hope for America among young people is rising dramatically, especially among people of color.” And the political issues of these young people are different than previous generations. A CNBC poll found that younger voters are concerned about health care, the racial wealth gap, student debt, and career outlook.
And those that advocate for Trump to be the future of the Republican party should realize that many young people feel he is a parasite that is infecting politics.
John Della Volpe, polling director at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics contends, “People vote when it’s personal, when they can see a difference in their lives,” adding, “I looked at dozens of subgroups, and when I look at the number of people who say ‘better’ and the number of people who say ‘worse,’ in every single case — other than among Republicans — people say that he’s made their life worse, and that’s a big deal.”
And while Trump’s populist appeal created a groundswell of Republican support, even among younger voters, many of them likely voted not so much for Trump in 2020, but against Hillary Clinton, who was actually a default candidate after the Democratic party tipped the scales away from their populist candidate, Bernie Sanders.
Gina Jochimsen, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student who threw herself into campaigning for Marco Rubio, said this of Trump: “I know that his conservative record isn’t the purest, but if I can prevent Hillary Clinton, who allowed four Americans to die in Benghazi and then lied to the families of those Americans, [from becoming president], I will absolutely do so.”
They are also in favor of policies that create expanded and sustainable social safety nets made possible by massive investments in human infrastructure, a dynamic no doubt colored by the economic dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in tandem with a push for more social and economic inclusivity. This of course translates into a major increase in federal spending.
Jordan Centry, an MBA student at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and class president of the MBA Student Association, frames it this way:
I believe the president should consider an expansionary fiscal policy and increase government spending, resulting in higher employment. It’s going to be difficult for many students to get a job after graduation and within months, their student loans are going to start coming due. They’ll need a job and access to health care. They’ve witnessed so much racial injustice and inequality and they’re outraged. They want to know that they have a leader who will help improve the economy they are graduating into and make it a place of opportunity not just for a select few but for everyone.
For these younger voters, it comes down to a sense of voice and agency, because underneath their frustration is a feeling they are not being listened to or taken seriously. As the New York Times argues, “it is fundamentally about young voters’ sense that they are living in an entirely different world than their parents, and that politicians — or at least the ones winning elections — aren’t acknowledging it.”
Even as they continually point out pressing social issues, the zeitgeist of these younger voters is decidedly aspirational and forward-looking, based on the shared vision of the possibilities that can be manifested by dreaming big. As Michael May, 20, a student at the University of Toronto” said, “We grew up with a black president who ran on a platform of change. We think that more is possible than older generations do.”
Young people simply don’t want to be moralized or lectured, and they definitely don’t want to be talked down to and be dismissed as “naive.” Moreover, their politics and stances on social issues are driven by a series of crises such as 9/11, the Great Recession of 2008, and most recently the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, there is a pervasive sense that life is unstable and unpredictable, a desperate feeling that if things don’t fundamentally change, that proverbial brass ring previous generations seized with fervor and zeal will forever be out of their grasp.
At the end of the day, Republicans have a choice. If they insist on passing abortion laws like the State of Texas instead of providing support to young women by giving them access to resources to help them keep their babies, they will lose. If they don’t acknowledge that there are policies at play that disproportionately hurt people of color, such as the war on drugs, they will lose. If they do not recognize that the concern for the environment is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed in a head-on manner, they will lose. If they do not support ways to either significantly lower costs for college or find a way to pay for it, they will lose.
And, if they cannot offer solutions to people who increasingly cannot afford health care, they will lose.
By not tackling these issues, by not clearly articulating a plan that goes beyond tax cuts and deregulation, young people will continue to choose the lesser of the two evils that is embodied in the Democrat party. They must offer a palpable, personally appealing vision for the future that is inclusive, tolerant, and willing to invest in the generation that would put them in office. And they can’t go on whining about how they don’t get a fair shake by the mainstream media. They don’t, but so what! They have to make a case so positive that the media cannot resist, that the younger voting bloc finds meaningful and compelling.
If not, it is just a matter of time before the GOP is not only hospitalized but finds itself on a ventilator, a product of their self-created pandemic. The end result will be a one-party system, a path that leads to totalitarianism, regardless of whether it is run by a donkey or an elephant.
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