The Republican National Convention was light on policy.
Ivanka Trump said something about equal pay for women and another thing about child care – things her father then mostly left on the cutting room floor during his hour-long speech.
That’s why we now have a strange situation on our hands – a situation in which the most important policy speech of the convention was given on Monday afternoon by 20-something Alexandra Smith, the national chair of the 250,000-member College Republicans.
The speech wasn’t awe-inspiring. But it was honest. And in its honesty, it got to what really threatens the GOP and makes its platform untenable for the party’s long-term future.
Smith’s speech was not about the GOP in this election; it was about the GOP’s future over the next several decades.
“For too long Republicans haven’t been making their case to millennials,” Smith said, her saccharine tone smoothing over the severity of the situation. “There’s just too much old and not enough grand in the way we express our party’s value to the next generation of voters.”
In other words: You’re losing us.
‘What a drag it is getting old …’
When it comes to millennials and the 2016 presidential election, the Republican Party can pretty much count out their support.
According to a poll commissioned by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, young people across the political spectrum overwhelmingly dislike Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Only 25% of young voters plan to vote for Trump, compared with 61% who plan to support presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
When NPR hit the streets of Cleveland trying to find young people who supported Trump – young Republicans dedicated enough to attend the RNC – it was not an easy task. A moderator at a town hall of about 100 millennials attending the convention asked the room how many were “big believers” in Trump.
One hand tentatively went up.
- Pew Research Center
Two parts of Trump’s platform do not make any sense in terms of the millennial experience. First: protectionism.
Millennials never had the good-paying manufacturing jobs Trump is promising to bring back. They know globalization, and they know the internet.
The other part of Trumpism that rubs millennials the wrong way is the overt inflammatory rhetoric toward minority populations and nationalism. Millennials are the most diverse group in US history – 43% of them are nonwhite.
“I feel like to win the millennials’ vote we need to hear that he’s going to be more tolerant,” one 18-year-old North Carolina woman told NPR.
She added: “I feel like millennials grew up in a totally different culture in a totally different atmosphere than the older generation of the conservative party. … Not all of us want to see thousands of immigrants get sent back, and not all of us want to see a huge wall built.”
According to the Pew Research Center, the generational ideological divide in the Republican Party is far more stark than it is in the Democratic Party. Young Republicans support same-sex marriage, are far more skeptical of capitalism and far less skeptical of government and its uses, and see immigrants as a positive force in America.
“Millennials cost us the White House four years ago, and that’s caused some of the political elite to write us off,” Smith said in her speech. “But if anyone tells you that free-market and liberty-minded principles aren’t in demand with our generation, they just haven’t looked at the world around them lately. “
In some young June Cleaver way, you may consider that statement Smith’s message of defiance. Millennials, when rallied, can make a significant difference in electoral politics, but only when actually rallied. And, by the way, they had to figure out how to make a living as young people in the world’s post-financial-crisis apocalypse economy and still haven’t completely rejected capitalism.
That deserves some credit, she hints.
But the ideas millennials have rejected are something that the GOP should also consider, and Smith – in the same tone one would use to sell Girl Scout Cookies – gets at it a little bit.
“The very essence of our generation rejects a one-size-fits-all top-down approach,” she said. “We may drive you nuts because of it, but no one has ever told my generation how to be consumers, communicators, or learners. We are some crazy freedom-loving people.”
Oh, yes, totally crazy.
- Pew Research Center
According to data compiled by Pew, millennials don’t really need political parties to the same extent as older generations. About half of them are registered independents. They don’t need to be loyal to anyone. They don’t care to be counted on as a base.
That means this isn’t just about experimentation anymore. Historically, young people have tended to continue experimentation after college into their early 20s – that goes for politics as it does psychedelics and music. Remember, Hillary Clinton was active in the College Republicans before becoming a Democrat.
But after a while these experimenters have also historically settled on a party. Millennials are showing signs that they may not do that in the near term – especially not with GOP leadership like Trump’s. And maybe they won’t do it ever.
That does not bode well for the Republican Party when millennials reach an age where voters really tend to turn out to the polls.
All of this crucial millennial insecurity, this feeling of being ignored despite demographic trends, was crystallized in a three-minute speech that nobody watched, nobody referenced later, and that no one in the party will remember in between praising Ivanka Trump and bashing Ted Cruz.