Winning Over Millennial Republicans

Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich, right, answers a question as (L-R) Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush listen during a Republican presidential primary debate, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

A young Republican is an increasingly difficult thing to be. One faces a slew of inadequate candidates, ranging from the drearily dated to the alarmingly absurd. Befitting this, the reaction to the right’s presidential hopefuls from the Millennial Generation has been, for the most part, overwhelmingly blase. There are, of course, pockets of rabid fans, but they are only a small slice of the demographic under consideration. As far as the election of 2016 is concerned, the vote of the young conservative is utterly undecided.

This indecision is the product of an unfilled political void: the unrepresented realm of social liberality and fiscal conservatism. Many millennials who prefer Republican economic policy—free markets, lower taxes, and minimal government expenditures—simultaneously lean far to the left on issues like climate change, practical gun control, and marriage equality. The Republican Party, unfortunately, refuses to lean with them.

This type of split position is something troublesome for American politics, as any broad defiance of the conventional principles of either established party often is. It can’t be described under traditional political terms or lumped under traditional ideological umbrellas. Even “center-right,” the catch-all term for moderate Republicans with the occasional liberal inclination, doesn’t seem to work. Nor can these voters be cast into the Libertarian designation. They adhere too firmly to the proactive social reforms of the l eft, much more progressive than the basic Libertarian call for general personal freedoms, which leaves them stranded between two established philosophies without any authentic definition of their own. This is a sort of neo-neoconservatism, representative of a rising 21st-century phenomenon, and a combination of values critical to both major parties.

The fact that the language to describe this political position is so vague and clunky speaks volumes about its underrepresentation. Whereas “Republican” might previously have answered an inquiry into political orientation, for Millennials on the right, today that response comes with an asterisk and a lengthy footnote concerning their positions on various social issues. And there isn’t a single candidate on the stage of the Republican debates who adequately reconciles with the average Millennial footnote.

As a product of this, where young voters of this overlooked base would like to stand up in support of Republican economic and foreign policy, they are more and more often sitting down and regretfully shaking their heads at Republican climate change denial and cruel, reactionary immigration policy. And even as they do this, candidates continue to spend their full energy competing for the support of older grassroots conservatives and moneyed interests on the far right. When, if ever, will this change?

Though 2016 is shaping up to be a year of political revolution (by steady American standards), what part of this “revolution” will bring social liberality and economic conservatism any closer to legitimate representation in a candidate? None of the political “outsiders” threatening to turn Washington upside down in a rage of populist purification have expressed any understanding of this demographic, and the aging establishment certainly isn’t about to bend toward practical inclusion. There’s a chance this void may go unfilled for years.

Perhaps this is a result of how deeply the strict two-party system is engrained in the electoral mechanisms of this country–it can be fairly easy for the establishment to forget that nontraditional views even exist. But this is not some radical fringe movement. This is a mainstream call for an egalitarian embrace of modern reality. This is an entire generation of Republican voters being overlooked because of strict party guidelines on social policy and endless pandering to the far right, the supposed heart of the conservative electorate.

This could potentially spell doom for the Republican Party. Perhaps not this election, perhaps not the next election, perhaps not any time in the near future, but somewhere down the line, if this goes unchanged, the influence of the right is going to be wiped from the American political scene, as it faces off with a Democratic Party broadly united by the moral high ground of social liberality. With this social liberality, unfortunately, comes fiscal liberality: broad government intervention in markets and trade, deficit spending, and high taxes that slow domestic growth and drive corporate wealth to cheap havens overseas. As these policies drag on our economy, the Republican higher-ups are going to belatedly realize that, at the turn of the century, their fiscal policies had the loyalty of an entire generation, and they squandered it by stubbornly clinging to an archaic social agenda.

This is perhaps a bit ominous, but this crucial representative void exists, and it must be filled. A candidate willing to stand up on the matters of climate change and immigration, but keep an agenda of tax reform and decreased spending, would be a good first step. But even before that occurs, it might help to name the political orientation he or she would be representing more definitively. A fiscal conservative with passionately liberal social leanings befitting the 21st century, not willing to give up on the right just yet, though they are certainly not pleased with the direction in which it is heading socially—a Republican, yes, but not an ordinary Republican. Instead, a revolutionary ideological subset, a product of this unique political age: the Embarrassed Republican.

Featured Image by Charlie Neibergall – AP Photo