On Wednesday, we were subject to a speech by Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), where he highlighted the failures of the Barack Obama administration, and Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, and emphasized the fact that a Trump presidency was what the country needed in order to restore the United States to the stature we were at before the Obama administration, by utilizing the catch phrase “America Deserves Better”. As a Democrat, I’m pretty reluctant to accept that train of thought, an instead want to focus on a conversation that we had with Jamil Hill (MTV) on Thursday afternoon about what the Republican Party can do to appeal to Millennials, and where we go from here.
Without a seismic shift between today and November 8th, this election will become the third straight election that Millennials have supported the Democratic nominee in much larger numbers than the Republican nominee. This trend should be concerning to Republicans, because political science research indicates that after supporting an ideology/party for three straight elections, you begin to become entrenched into that party for life (individuals who came of age during the Reagan/Bush years still remain fully committed to the Republican Party and conservative ideals).
The selection of Mike Pence as the Vice Presidential nominee does nothing to assuage the concerns of Millennial voters. While I’d credit Donald Trump for making a savvy choice to shore up an establishment conservative base that may have had remaining concerns from a divisive primary, the values of Mike Pence are antithetical to the belief that most Millennials hold. Pence has spent his career being first, a Christian, second, a conservative, and third, a Republican. Though many Millennials have been quick to shed party identification, the Millennials have also drifted away from traditional religious orthodoxy, towards a more personal religious identity, with large swaths of Millennials identifying as agnostic or atheist. Millennials have also tended towards more tolerant beliefs on social issues, including increasing support for marriage equality, reproductive rights for women, and immigration reform.
The leadership of Mike Pence in Indiana and in the House of Representatives (where he served from 2001-2013) has represented traditional, evangelical politics. In fact, I believe that if Mike Pence had a higher approval rating in Indiana, I think he would have been a force to be reckoned with in the 2016 Republican Primary, appealing to similar voters to Ted Cruz (Mike Pence has always been more respected among the Republican establishment than Ted Cruz). The bill that Cru has become most known for advocating for was a Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. This bill, which many opponents dubbed as “legalized discrimination”, “prohibits state or local governments from substantially burdening a person’s ability to exercise their religion – unless the government can show that it has a compelling interest and that the action is the least restrictive means of achieving it”. The unintended (or many intended?) consequences of this bill would be allowing businesses to discriminate, or not serve, certain individuals whose lifestyles they thought were antithetical to their own belief systems. Being a product of an interracial marriage where until the 1960’s there were parts of the country where my [African-American] dad could not eat in the same places or drink out of the same water fountains, as my [white] mom, I’m going to be very hesitant to embrace a position which could produce a similar environment today.
Putting partisanship aside, the Republican Party has work to do to be able to make inroads among Millennial voters. Certain politicians such as Marco Rubio and John Kasich have attempted to shift the focus away from moralistic issues, and have instead worked on emphasizing their roles as problem solvers and fiscal conservatives. That is why I believe many conservative Millennials flocked to Rubio and Kasich during the primary, and are now strongly considering supporting Gary Johnson (Libertarian) in the General election.
So in conclusion, America does deserve better. A better Republican Party. A forward thinking party that can appeal to voters from all demographics. If the Republican Party continues this line of thinking and avoids outreach to Millennials, who are becoming a growing share of the electorate, their share of the two party vote will continue to shrink, as these groups search for a party, which is more receptive to their ideals.