When it comes to winning over young Americans, actions speak louder than words.
At first glance, the 95-page report on youth outreach released Monday by the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) looked great. The straight-talking study made sensible recommendations to solve the Republican youth problem—if you want to understand a younger audience, go talk to them on their own turf. Sounds reasonable, right?
Well, there’s a little more to it than that. When you talk to young voters, you better mean what you tell them.
The Republican Party has a youth problem—only half of all eligible voters, ages 18 to 29, participated in the 2012 presidential election. Of those, 67 percent supported President Obama. But once again, the Monday morning quarterbacks have analyzed everything surrounding the Party’s “policy agenda,” except the policy agenda itself.
Fixing the Republican sales pitch for small-government ideas is only one part of the equation. With the millennial generation, talk is cheap. Authenticity and action speak louder than words, and young Americans are paying attention.
These days, social networks and smartphones keep politicians on their toes. This era of American politics is increasingly defined by transparency across government. Once-nameless bureaucrats have been named. Beltway insiders and their cronies in Congress are revealed. Political lip-service is chronicled.
Politically active young Americans were alarmed when the Republican establishment changed the rules at the Party’s Convention to marginalize the influence of grassroots activists. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) held a pre-determined voice vote to make sure those straying from the establishment’s political agenda were kept in their place. Fortunately, tech-savvy activists were able to capture images of the teleprompter, and covered the story from the Convention floor in real-time.
Millennials also took notice when 85 House and 39 Senate Republicans voted to raise taxes on 77 percent of Americans while extending a bunch of corporate welfare tax credits in a sneaky midnight vote on New Year’s Eve. They noticed when 199 House and 12 Senate Republicans voted to increase the debt ceiling for three months without demanding anything in return.
You can’t blame young Americans for doubting the GOP’s sincerity. After a campaign season spent preaching “fidelity to conservative principles,” young Americans watched 214 House and 20 Senate Republicans vote to pass a “clean” extension of unsustainable federal spending. That same month, the Republican National Committee released a post-election “autopsy” report claiming to be the party of small-government solutions.
Conservatives and libertarian online forums—largely populated by young people—exploded when 21 Republican Senators voted to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, an unconstitutional Internet sales tax that violates all precedents of taxation by allowing states to tax Internet sales across state borders, regardless of a business’s physical location.
The Republican political establishment doesn’t have a failure to communicate—young Americans just know a phony when they see one.
If the Republican Party wants to rehabilitate its image with younger voters who believe in individual liberty and limited government, they have stop making deals with liberal Democrats to accomplish the exact opposite while expecting nobody to notice.
Republican Party leadership should take a page from the playbook of fiscal conservatives who are getting it right. There is a growing level of youthful enthusiasm surrounding pro-freedom voters in the House, including Rep. Thomas Massie (KY-4) who reads every piece of legislation he votes on cover to cover, and Rep. Justin Amash (MI-3), who dares to explain every single vote to his constituents on Facebook.
Grassroots enthusiasm surrounding authentic fiscal conservatives has fundamentally shifted the power balance in the Senate as well, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell now shares the driver’s seat with junior Senators Mike Lee (UT), Rand Paul (KY) and Ted Cruz (TX).
The real task for Republicans this year is to build a voting record that backs up their rhetoric. Young Republicans, fiscal conservatives, “small-l” libertarians, and independents believe in values and ideas—not political glad-handers and false marketing.
Actions speak louder than words. If the GOP can stop chasing superficial solutions to their youth image problem and focus on providing young voters with a credible alternative to the big-government Obama agenda, they may be able to avoid inspiring so many Buzzfeed “Top #GOPFail” countdowns.