Republicans face a real and looming threat to our survival as a major party: Just 20 percent of millennials identify with the GOP.
Our voting base, the baby boomer generation, is shrinking along with the popularity of Republicans in urban areas. As I detail in GOP GPS: How to Find the Millennials and Urban Voters the Republican Party Needs to Survive, out today, the Republican Party faces a choice: stay as it is and see its hold on government dwindle, or adapt and evolve in order to ensure at least 30 more years as the dominant party in American politics. To do the latter, the Republican Party must turn toward millennials.
When it comes to millennials, we need to act—and fast. Millennials, men and women age 18 through 34, are the largest voting bloc in the United States. In 2015, they overtook baby boomers as the biggest generation in the country, numbering a whopping 75 million people. They are the biggest portion of the US labor force. Nearly one in four Americans belongs to the millennial generation, meaning their voices will be heard at the voting booth in November and for decades to come.
The assumptions of older Republican consultants, operatives and voters about millennials are way off. Millennials are not the pothead slackers that they are made out to be. Older millennials now have families of their own and are incredibly concerned about and engaged in the issues that confront us.
They care about education. They care about entitlements. They care about health care. They care about national security. They care about immigration. They care about marriage equality. They care about what is going on and where we as a nation are headed.
In the United States, the interests of millennials are ones that are tailor-made for conversion to the Republican Party. They are a diverse group of men and women who are socially more libertarian and economically more conservative.
The past few years have seen racial tensions flare, as groups like Black Lives Matter and the college safe space movements have protested what they believe is important. We Republicans reflexively pushed back by mocking and opposing these groups at almost every turn. Some of their grievances were and are ridiculous, while others are legitimate problems requiring redress.
GOP policies can and will help heal the divide, but only if Republicans can make themselves worth listening to. Of course, these groups view Republicans as the party of the crusty old white man, so are not exactly receptive to our ideas (a problem that is only compounded by the fact that millennials are the most-diverse generation in United States history). What incentive do they have to listen to us talk about race? None.
We can actually get millennials’ attention and demonstrate the Republican Party’s commitment to racial equality, but we must first admit and acknowledge the simple truth that minorities do experience issues that are unique to them. We have not done so and we have suffered for it. Doing so would enable Republicans to have their ideas taken more seriously by millennials and minorities.
Republicans must also take up the issue of affordability and debt, both public and private. In terms of public debt, a great place to start would be with the cost of entitlements. Not through our standard ideas of raising the retirement age for Social Security—although it is a good idea—but by highlighting problems of entitlements that have received little-to-no attention.
Take Medicare and Medicaid, which are overseen by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). They have in place a policy that penalizes urban users who try to use telemedicine apps that enable a patient to speak with and be treated by a board-certified doctor with the push of a button on their smartphone—all without having to leave their home. The typical telemedicine visit costs $50, which many private insurance carriers cover. If you live in an urban area, CMS will not cover this because, in their antiquated view, patients are geographically close enough to a doctor’s office that they do not require telemedicine care for a noncritical issue. This view fails to take into account how many urban doctors are no longer accepting Medicare and Medicaid and have lengthy waiting periods. This pushes the patient to a place that does accept Medicare and Medicaid: the emergency room, where the average visit costs almost $1,250. Because of CMS, taxpayers are paying 25 times what they should for medical care for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
Fixing Medicare and Medicaid so that these entitlement programs are paying less for care—without sacrificing the quality of said care—will go a long way to helping their fiscal solvency.
Private debt is another matter that must be addressed. In 2015, the average millennial graduated from college with over $35,000 in student debt. This is a major ball and chain for millennials, one that leads many to put off buying a home while inhibiting general spending that would boost the economy.
Republicans must tackle the student debt crisis, not by making unrealistic promises of “debt-free” college tuition, but by finding ways to make college more affordable. Let’s examine what many public universities are doing to attract students. They are using the taxpayer’s nickel to build dorms that rival many luxury apartment buildings. The University of Texas at Austin boasts a dorm with full maid service. The University of Arizona has one that offers residents a gym, executive meeting rooms, and a spa that includes a steam room and sauna. The cost of such lavishness is paid for not only by the taxpayer, but by the students themselves. The GOP must hold public universities accountable for spending taxpayer dollars like drunken sailors.
Another way in which we Republicans can and must bring millennials into the fold would be to push for a party platform that is more tolerant of the LGBT community. Almost 75 percent of millennials favor marriage equality, with 61 percent of young Republicans being in favor of it as well. Yet, many older members of our party stand against it, which contributes to the gulf between the GOP and millennials. Last month, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the Republican Party missed a golden opportunity to show our commitment to the LGBT community by adopting a platform that was less-combative on LGBT issues. Now, we must see that members of our party embrace a more tolerant stance when it comes to gays and lesbians. A good start would be to adopt the attitude of John Kasich, who said in August 2015 that while he is personally against gay marriage, he will still love those who are gay and exercise their constitutional right to marry. It is not only pragmatic, but compassionate.
These are just the tip of the iceberg of issues that we must confront to win over millennials. Education, immigration, foreign policy, national security, and many more must all be covered.
Make no mistake, we Republicans have our work cut out for us when it comes to getting millennials to join us. For quite a long time, we have been pushing them and minorities away with our attitudes and actions which reinforce the caricature of us being the party of the old white guy and pushing the ideas of the past. If we do not, then we will have not only lost the largest generation in the country, but our relevance as a political party in the United States.
Were that to happen, we Republicans would only have ourselves to blame.