Republicans Start New Grassroots Campaign to Attract Young Voters, But Will It Be Enough?


Last week, the Republican National Committee announced that it will be launching the next phase of its Growth and Opportunity project, a website that will "serve as a forum for grassroots supporters to share ideas and recommendations about the way forward for the Republican Party. As Chairman Priebus and the co-chairs of the Growth and Opportunity project travel the country seeking input that will influence the Party’s long term plan, the listening website will be another tool to help facilitate conversation across the country."

But will these grassroots measures really do much to fix the GOP's problems?

In his re-election speech last Friday, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus called for a transformation that would propel the GOP away from its image as the 2-percenter party, which cost them the presidential race as well as seats in the House and Senate. His solution: Expand the GOP's appeal to minority voters.

“We have to build better relationships in minority communities, urban centers,” said Priebus in his RNC Winter address. “We need a permanent, growing presence.”

Republicans are riding the demographic shift bandwagon like there’s no tomorrow — and they should. Republicans have realized that Obama’s victory was largely attributed to the democratic minority vote, and are now finally hurdling over Rovian delusions. Even Rush Limbaugh gave a shout-out (with tangible trepidation) to Marco Rubio’s call for immigration reform, and conceded that with stricter border restrictions, he could agree to a beefed-up version of Reagan’s 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli-type amnesty.

But whom are we kidding? Capturing the minority vote is a long shot for the GOP, if not for any other reason that Democrats have secured (albeit, not permanently) the predominant Black, Hispanic, and Asian cohorts. Angel Rios and the rest of the all-star Democratic canvassing team in Cleveland featured in TIME’s December 2012 Person of the Year print edition attest to the deep-seeded grassroots campaigning efforts that proved effective and fruitful. At best, the GOP’s appeal to minorities appears more like a bully apologizing insincerely to the antagonized rather than a concerted realization to change dogmas on the matter.

Where the Republican Party might be able to prove authenticity is in appealing to millennials — and not just appealing to them, but by making a stringent effort to understand their values. In an interview with PolicyMic, Priebus characterizes American youth as heirs to a country in debt, and therefore, a demographic yearning for a party that can offer them better opportunities. The GOP so far has not offered a solution to this cry; instead, they have fought against increasing the debt ceiling, have proposed to cut all but the budget on military, security, and veterans. But what about education and the entitlement programs that “young people” (as Priebus exotically refers to our cohort) have proven to want?

Dillon Zhou’s Q&A with Zack Kopplin, a millennial fighting creationism in Louisiana, is another example of the Republican Party’s cognitive dissonance. Kopplin’s endeavor emphasizes the ideological gap between Generation Y and the GOP. Millennials are much more secular than their predecessors.

The call for change will only be substantiated when the GOP can indeed “treat all people as individuals rather than as members of special interest groups,” as Kopplin’s governor, Bobby Jindal, has remarked, and internalize or adopt these understandings by recruiting youth who consider themselves alienated from such a party.

Part of this requires recruitment from the aforementioned alienated group: minorities. Rubio and Jindal are slowly making strides towards this effort — convincing the Tea Party will be a challenge, to say the least. But another woefully neglected cohort will be appealing to bright, conservative women who represent millennial values. (Age isn’t the only thing barring you from this, Michele Bachmann.) Not only do conservatives not understand women (looking at you, Todd Akin et. al), I’m not sure that Democrats understand the conservative woman, either. If Republicans can include her ideas and recruit her, that’s when Jindal can say he stuck to his word.

Priebus gives three ultimatums to Republican reform. One: to remain unchanged. Two: to compromise Republican principles.

“Or, the third option: We can stand by our timeless principles — and articulate them in ways that are modern … relevant to our time and relatable to the majority of voters. And that, I believe, is how we’ll achieve a Republican renewal. That’s how we’ll grow. That’s how we’ll win.”

Well, giddy up then, ‘cause you have a lot of catching up to do.