College Republicans’ Plan for GOP Rebranding: Seem Tolerant!
Today, the College Republican National Committee is releasing a report, based on a poll and focus groups, examining how and why the Republican Party lost the under-30 vote and what they could do to win it back. Spoiler: They will have to become an entirely different party with entirely different positions. Though that is sort of my interpretation of their findings. The College Republicans are still pretty sure it’s primarily a problem of “messaging.”
The report, according to Politico’s summary, covers much of the same ground as the Reince Priebus-ordered RNC report on the troubles of the Republican Party released earlier this year. Politico sums up the findings with the following bullet points:
Gay marriage: “On the ‘open-minded’ issue … [w]e will face serious difficulty so long as the issue of gay marriage remains on the table.”
Hispanics: “Latino voters … tend to think the GOP couldn’t care less about them.”
Perception of the party’s economic stance: “We’ve become the party that will pat you on your back when you make it, but won’t offer you a hand to help you get there.”
Big reason for the image problem: The “outrageous statements made by errant Republican voices.”
Words that up-for-grabs voters associate with the GOP: “The responses were brutal: closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned.”
Now, you and I know this, but apparently Republicans still haven’t figured out that another name for “errant Republican voices” is “people honestly and clearly stating the dominant policy and philosophical positions of the modern conservative movement.” This is where they may run into some trouble. In fact, most of these unfortunate impressions people have of the party are accurate reflections of the party’s positions.
The report sidesteps most of this, calling for the party to sound more tolerant and open-minded. On same-sex marriage, the authors write, “the party ought to promote the diversity of thought within its ranks and make clear that we welcome healthy debate on the policy topic at hand.” We’ve been having “healthy debate” on the issue for some time now, and most Americans — including overwhelming majorities of young people — have come to the conclusion that the debate is basically over.
Another always-fun topic in these reports is how they deal with the party’s recent nationwide reproductive rights tantrum. The College Republicans recommend just shutting up about it:
Concerning reproductive issues that have tripped up GOP candidates, “the Republican Party has been painted — both by Democrats and by unhelpful voices in our own ranks — in holding the most extreme anti-abortion positions,” the report said. Republicans need to avoid allowing the abortion debate to be “conflated” with debates over contraception, rape and Planned Parenthood, the report recommended, though the party needn’t alter its stance on the issue of abortion itself.
Don’t change a thing, just … don’t talk about the implications of your position.
A major problem for the party, of course, is that young voters are drifting leftward oneconomic issues, which is really the conservative movement’s nightmare scenario. The College Republicans sort of acknowledge this, but they also insist that young people simply have got the wrong idea about the GOP’s economic message. For some crazy reason everyone has decided that all right-wing tax and economic policy is geared toward making already rich people richer!
“Policies that lower taxes and regulations on small businesses are quite popular. Yet our focus on taxation and business issues has left many young voters thinking they will only reap the benefits of Republican policies if they become wealthy or rise to the top of a big business,” the report says. “We’ve become the party that will pat you on your back when you make it but won’t offer you a hand to help you get there.”
In fact, one of the CRNC’s polls found that 54 percent of young voters said “taxes should go up on the wealthy” while only 3 percent said “taxes should be cut for the wealthy.” Bashing Big Government also didn’t play well and was even damaging, according to some of the focus groups, the study found.
So young voters are apparently rejecting core right-wing economic beliefs. How should the party respond? The authors say “the party must explain how its policies translate into chances for economic advancement and should seek to do so in a more ‘caring’ tone.” A “caring” tone sounds like a good first step, but one slight issue is that young people have figured out that Republican policies don’t translate into chances for economic advancement.
All stories on the Republicans’ “youth vote” troubles mention that Reagan handily won young voters in 1984. Though back then, the youth vote was people (mostly white people) born in the 1950s and early 1960s, whose only adult experience with a Democratic president was Jimmy Carter. (Our current young people are much more likely to remember the relative prosperity of the Clinton years, and, more important, everything about the Bush years.) 1984 and 1988 were the only election cycles since the voting age was lowered to 18 that Republicans won young voters. The GOP has been on a steady decline with voters under 30 since 1988. Not coincidentally, voters under 30 are much more likely to be non-white now than in 1984 or 1988.
It is a bit interesting that these calls for change in how the party presents itself are coming from the College Republicans, traditionally one of the party’s most proudly assholish wings. College Republicans across the country think a great way to get people excited for Republicans is by holding “affirmative action bake sales.” College Republicans bred Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. The co-author of the report, former College Republicans head Alex Schriver, won his election to that post following a drunken speech in which the Texas College Republicans chairman called Schriver’s opponents “nerds and fags.” A previous national chairman notoriously sent fundraising letters aimed specifically at “elderly people with dementia.” (He won the chair with the assistance of the odious North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, himself a former College Republican.) The culture that so desperately needs to be changed in the GOP begins with its college boosters, a lily-white crowd of entitled bow-tied pricks who go out of their way to be detested by “nerds and fags” on every campus on which they have a chapter.
It’s also true that the GOP cannot possibly take real steps to make itself a more appealing party to a younger, more diverse and tolerant generation without alienating the people who currently put the GOP in control of the United States House of Representatives. The old guard, who refuse to change anything, have a decent argument: It’d be political suicide to abandon the reactionary old people who currently always vote Republican, because while they’re a shrinking demographic, they’re also a large and loyal one.
The Republican Party is dependent on the votes and dollars of the people who make young voters detest the Republican Party. There’s no way to “message” the GOP out of that trap.