For the first time in decades, the Republican Party controls the United States Congress, the White House and the majority of state governments. For now, the Republican Party’s grasp on power is rock solid. But if the GOP loses the next generation of voters, their control could prove temporary.
I come from a family of Republicans, but in the 2016 presidential election, I broke from the party and voted for the libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson. Millennial would-be conservatives like me have started defecting to the Libertarian movement faster than Ted Cruz’s twitter gaffe spread across the internet. The GOP’s message isn’t resonating with us. Why?
Young conservatives have been pushed away by the party’s rigid social agenda. Values shift with generations and Republicans must adapt or risk fading from relevancy. If they don’t evolve on social issues, shed their evangelical affiliation and stop scaring away minority voters, the GOP risks watching their control collapse under a wave of millennial anti-Trump sentiment in 2018, 2020 and beyond.
The Republican social platform harkens back to the 1960s, but the Baby Boomers will only be around for so long. In 2018, millennials will surpass the “Greatest Generation” and become the largest voting bloc in the country. Regressive social policy won’t win over young people like me – yet that’s exactly what the GOP has been peddling.
In 2016, the field of 17 GOP presidential candidates included no clear supporters of gay marriage, despite the fact that the majority of both millennials and the general population have gotten behind the marriage-equality cause. Conservative publications and cable news networks continue to blur the line between conservative commentary and blatant homophobia. Just this September, a contributor in the Wall Street Journal wrote that same-sex relations were “gravely sinful” and “harmful to the well-being of those who partake in them,” while former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes has been repeatedly accused of using anti-gay slurs. All the while, prominent factions of the GOP have continued to support conversion therapy; Vice President Mike Pence has a history of peddling the debunked practice. Just in recent weeks, Republicans in Alabama nominated a candidate for the Senate, Roy Moore, who believes homosexuality should be illegal.
Donald Trump managed to narrowly win the 2016 election, but he hid behind promises of support for the LGBTQ+ community. His words have been betrayed by his actions. The Trump administration has scrubbed all mention of LGBTQ+ issues from White House websites, removed questions asking about sexual orientation from national surveys and instructed the Department of Defense to cease transgender enrollment in the military.
Only one in five millennials identifies as LGBTQ+, but nearly two-thirds consider themselves allies. The Republican Party has always advocated for economic freedom, but if it hopes to have any chance of courting millennials in the future, it must also embrace personal liberty.
In addition to embracing personal liberty, the conservative movement’s way forward must be a secular one if it wishes to win over the least religious generation in American history. In its current form, the party is far more closely intertwined with its evangelical and Christian roots than any governing body should be. The inauguration of President Trump, which featured 26 religious speakers who lead six prayers, was a shock to young people like me who grew up being told that our country separated church and state.
Even the Republican Party’s platform is rooted in religion. It calls for allowing political activity by churches, religious monuments on government property and prayer in our public school system. But religion is fading from our society; millennials are far less likely to attend church or pray than past generations.
We are more inclusive and less religious than past generations, but we’re also the most diverse. The 2015 census found that nearly 45 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 belong to a minority group. Ours is the first generation where the minorities nearly form a majority. To broaden their appeal beyond a shrinking white, working-class base, more Republicans in Congress need to follow the lead of Lisa Murkowski or John McCain and pursue reasonable, bipartisan immigration reform. Building a wall will drive millennials away, not illegal immigrants.
In his book “The Conscience of a Conservative,” Arizona Senator Jeff Flake outlines what conservatism is supposed to be about: limited government, economic freedom and individual liberty. Young people like me are open to these ideas – only if the Republican Party can present them without the baggage of generations past. With the rise of socialist, far-left leaders like Bernie Sanders in the Democratic party, the GOP has a chance to capture the large support for capitalism that still exists among millennials – but only if they act fast.
If Republicans continue down an exclusive, evangelical and nativist path, they won’t be able to compete past 2018. To the GOP: Adapt with the times, or find yourself replaced by a party that’s willing to do so.
Bradley Polumbo is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected] or found on Twitter @Brad_Polumbo.