Donald Trump’s candidacy is an outright disaster for the Republican Party. Millennial voters, a voting bloc that will be crucial for decades to come, are not likely to embrace Trump’s extreme proposals. As he leads in the polls, they have to be wondering why they should support a party whose leading candidate for president, as they see it, is embracing racist positions and values counter to those of the United States and what it stands for.
The campaign of Donald J. Trump is a cavalcade of crazy. Appealing to our insecurities and the darker side of human nature, Trump has turned the 2016 presidential campaign trail into a reality show that makes one ask, what happened to the little boy from Queens that made him such a divisive and ugly man?
Perhaps Mr. Trump’s statements that escalate in outrageousness can be explained by his reality star background. Each offensive utterance is a “ratings stunt” which preys on a particular bloc of voters who feel betrayed by politicians who they believe have over-promised and under-delivered. They are angry at how life feels harder than it was 30 years ago, and Trump, to them, is the perfect vessel for their anger.
This begs the question of what do we Republicans do to win millennial voters and bring them into the fold?
Millennials are both confounding and simple when it comes to their views. They are socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and not terribly engaged in politics. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, millennials who identify as Republicans do not associate with being conservative. Two thirds of millennial Republicans have no allegiance to conservative values. Overall, millennials overwhelmingly believe in climate change, are pro-gay marriage, and do not identify as religious (only 27 percent do).
Make no mistake, millennials are vital to the future of both the Democratic and Republican parties. They have overtaken Baby Boomers as the largest living generation in the United States. Also, millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, overtaking Generation Xers.
To ignore millennials is downright political malpractice. So how does the GOP rebrand itself and adapt to the shifting electorate, as well as target millennials?
Rory Cooper, a Republican strategist and managing director of the strategy firm Purple Strategies, said, “Candidates need plans and rhetoric that speak to the anxieties of emerging voters like college debt, post-high school and college jobs, security, and the environment. That doesn’t mean they need to move left but instead clarify how conservatism advances these goals.”
We need to reverse their disposition toward not being involved. Republicans need to find ways to get millennials engaged and in turn hold a more favorable view toward politics and the political process. This means talking to millennials where they congregate, be it online or off. It is also important that we follow Cooper’s advice and communicate with millennials with policies and ideas that they understand and appreciate.
When it comes to the issue of equality, we must be more accepting toward LGBT Americans. Jerri Ann Henry of the American Unity Fund’s Platform Reform Campaign notes that 61 percent of GOP millennials back same-sex marriage rights. “For millennials, this is a gateway issue,” Henry says. “Millennials have made it clear they will not support a candidate who rejects the rights of their gay and lesbian neighbors.” A good start for the party would be to adopt a more gay-friendly platform at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Next, we need to embrace the fact that climate change is real and make substantive proposals that deal with it. No, it isn’t on par with ISIS and nor is it responsible for terrorism. However, millennials still believe it is a serious matter that must be confronted and dealt with. We need to turn away from questioning the science and turn toward questioning the solution.
A common charge made against the GOP by Democrats is that we don’t care about average Americans or the less fortunate, particularly when it comes to economic policies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, the complexities of economics give Democrats an advantage when it comes to framing the message. As a result, Republicans must in turn do a better job in messaging when it comes to the economy and issues of poverty. When Democrats accuse us of being a party of the rich, we must not only hit back and hard, but it is imperative that we effectively communicate how our policies give all Americans opportunity and economic security.
A great place for the GOP to start would be in New York in 2016, as Governor Andrew Cuomo looks to boost the state’s minimum wage from $8.75 to $15 an hour. This will be an uphill battle for Republicans, as millennials overwhelmingly support raising the minimum wage. They face a mountain of college debt, on average $30,000, and are working small salary jobs as their career begins (61 percent of low wage earners are millennials). It’s a daunting amount of debt, so no wonder millennials are quick to support raising the minimum wage. At the same time, it’s not a viable solution to their debt problem.
Yes, the intentions of Cuomo and Democrats to raise the minimum wage are good, but they are misguided. They fail to recognize that nearly doubling the minimum wage would be a disaster for businesses and workers alike. It would cause businesses to have to raise their prices, decrease staff and/or hours worked and increase the cost of living throughout the state. Furthermore, non-profits have signaled that they too would be forced to cut staff and therefore the good they do.
Republicans in turn share the same end goal as Democrats: helping to end income inequality. However, we differ on how to get there. A more logical and sound way to boost the income of Americans would be through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and a series of incentives for businesses to increase wages without negatively impacting their employees or bottom line.
Republicans must adapt and adjust to the realities of today in order to secure victory tomorrow. Donald Trump is the canary in the coal mine. If we continue down his path, the GOP will have big problems with millennials, Hispanics, African Americans and Asians. We certainly won’t win a presidential election as long as Trump’s extreme ideas and bigotry are pushed and tolerated. Let’s use this as an opportunity to bring millennials into the fold and make the Republican Party stronger.