The Internet can be an unkind place to young conservatives. There's no crime in that, of course — the rest of the world is more than welcoming. But stepping into the pit, bleeding Republican heart on your sleeve, is a small act of bravery in the acid world of presidential politics.
Such is the curious valor of Lucas Agnew, a senior at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California and the founder of a new super PAC called Millennials for Jeb. The 21-year-old filed papers with the Federal Election Committee on Jan. 26 and launched his website MillennialsForJeb.com on Tuesday, along with a number of affiliated social media accounts.
His self-imposed charge: Get young people pumped about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's nascent presidential campaign.
"We hope," Agnew explained in a phone call with Mic on Tuesday, "that millennials can come together and have a moderating effect on the system." He's no brand loyalist, though; Agnew has come to believe Bush is uniquely equipped to teach Washington's old dogs some new tricks. His initiative is another sign that years of government dysfunction have not spoiled young Americans' hunger for political action.
Ready for the ride: Agnew worked as an intern on Capitol Hill for the past two summers. Despite his last name, he is not related to Richard Nixon's criminal vice president. ("While I am sure it really would make the story, I am not related to Spiro Agnew," he emailed later.) What got him "hooked" on politics in the first place were the usual things: a family that chatted about the news, some time interning for the local mayor and work on Republican Rob McKenna's failed run for governor of Washington state, where Agnew grew up.
What got Agnew hooked on this campaign, in particular, was a bus.
"The Ready for Hillary bus came to campus at the end of the first semester in fall 2014, and that got me thinking, they have such a huge jump-start on everyone," Agnew said, referring to the super PAC pushing for Clinton to run for president. "This is kinda the start of millennial Republicans responding, but also just trying to get millennials involved generally. But yeah, it is a counter-reaction to Ready for Hillary in a lot of ways."
Millennials for Jeb is a boot-strapped operation. Agnew is, for now, the group's only dedicated member. He says he has not consulted with anyone in Bush's considerable donor base. The website was designed using a template from Weebly.com. He says that the swag for sale, including a flask with Bush's face printed onto the side ($35), was his own design:
The rollout on Tuesday earned Agnew a phone call from the Washington Post and a smattering of derisive blog posts. Millennials for Jeb is a ready-made online punchline. But the jokes have been less clever than ordinarily, often painfully glib.
Still, the language on the site's "About" page was ripe for plucking:
Many millennials feel unrepresented by the nation's political leaders who have proven incapable of providing much-needed solutions to the modern day problems that young adults face: a weak job market, failing public schools, rising student loan debt, etc. And also the problems the country faces: immigration reform, rising income inequality, fixing the education system, etc.
And so on. Few would argue that there is, indeed, a lot to do.
Making the argument: Speaking to Mic, Agnew was a bit more specific about his reasons for supporting Bush (but no less earnest).
"To me, the idea of pursuing policy and trying to achieve societal betterment — and I know that sounds super cliche — at the end of the day, that's why you can actually have a direct result on people's lives and try to make it better," he said.
So, why Bush?
"It is my personal belief that Jeb is a proven leader from his time as governor of Florida, who can put aside the political rhetoric aimed at pandering to a base and really get to the heart of an issue," the 21-year-old continued, picking up steam. "Look at what he said about immigration, calling it an 'act of love.' These illegal immigrants are coming to our country for better lives; you always have to think of that."
Right, but Republicans have scuttled immigration reform at every turn. There is a bipartisan overhaul bill languishing in the Senate, cast aside by conservatives in the House of Representatives. In December, Bush spoke out forcefully against President Barack Obama's executive actions to protect up to 5 million people from being deported. He did it again Wednesday morning in a Facebook post:
So again, why Bush?
"Because what Jeb wants is to pursue comprehensive immigration reform passed by Congress. Because then it's bipartisan and it's longer lasting," Agnew explains. He's wrestled with this before, clearly. "By executive action, it makes it more of a political issue that Republicans have to respond to with lobbing crazy things like, 'Obama the imperialist.' I understand that one thinks the problem is that Congress and the political system are so hyper partisan. And that's true."
Next steps: Agnew, who will graduate in the spring, played wide receiver for the Claremont McKenna Stags football team. "I was terrible. My future is not in the NFL," he says. Whether it's in politics could be decided in the coming months, though he maintains he's not angling for a place in the larger Jeb Bush campaign apparatus.
To that end, a little press never hurts. But the attention does come with a certain downside. There have been passing questions, like: "So who did you vote for in the 2012 election? Could you even vote yet?"
He did. But...
"To be honest, I don't want to make this about my past voting," Agnew says, "because [the PAC] isn't trying to be who I am. More so, the focus is on Jeb. But I associate myself with the Republican party."
The kid might have a chance after all.