Nathaniel Botwinick’s “Millennials Turn Rightward” op-ed in the National Review brings to light an opportunity the right should pounce on: to re-engage a demographic once thought sacred and loyal to the left. A study done by Rutgers University estimates that by 2015, millennial voters will account for one-third of the American electorate.
As the article points out it’s been well over a decade since this group was considered to be even remotely in play for Republicans. The Pew Research Center found that in 2009 60% of millennials were, or leaned Democratic, while 31%who were, or leaned toward Republican. But as disillusionment with President Obama continues to grow, Republicans can provide a vision not of nebulous hope and change but concrete purpose: to restore the American idea — freedom, opportunity, and prosperity; not debt, dependency, and decline. This message may already be resonating. Pew found that 2009 was the high-water mark of millennial identification with the Democratic Party. That 60% at the beginning of 2009 fell to 54% at the end of the year, while GOP support among the group rose from 31% to 40%. A good start to be sure, but much more needs to be done. To start with we should recognize that millennials have lived their entire lives during what Charles Kesler notes has been the “liberal century.”
Millennials have lived in an America that continued to drift closer in style to the European welfare system. They’ve been inculcated with the mantra that government can solve all of our society’s ills. Instead of “we” in Obama’s famous “yes we can” line, the president might well have just said “Yes government can” during his 2008 campaign. During that time more young people became involved in politics but all the talk of hope and changed never challenged that group, it never gave credence to the individuals who collectively make up the “we,” it only asked them to give up more autonomy. His agenda became readily apparent early on and government involvement was its foundation. They’ve begun to understand the implications of that. They can feel the consequences of poor economic policies, ever more regulation, and government overreach as they try to find jobs, buy homes, save money, and care for their aging parents. This is vintage Hayek – the encroachment of the state happens slowly and doesn’t seem radical in the moment, it evolves over time so that its consequences are not readily apparent until it’s possibly too late to reverse.
Millennials haven’t lived in a truly conservative period of governance. We don’t have too clear a memory of the Reagan years as we were born and raised amidst the prosperity of that time. The George W. Bush years were tumultuous and controversial with few opportunities for real domestic conservative policies to garner attention. The one that did, which bore fruit prior to the bubble was the Bush tax cuts now utilized by the current administration as a political sledgehammer, driving the class division stake further into the ground. The only achievement we may remember was welfare reform in the mid 1990 but even that was far too long ago.
This year could be a historical hinge point the right could capitalize on. Republicans can offer millennials a choice – a future where government plays an ever more intricate role in our everyday lives or a future where government is more limited. We can offer a government that adheres to its constitutional obligations, not one that tries to excessively exceed them. We can offer a government that provides a safety net for its weakest citizens and those who risk it all to climb the social ladder, not one that creates another generation sympathetic to unmitigated dependency. We can offer a government that knows its place is to step back and provide an equal playing field to encourage people rise on their merits, and understands that to be an inherently good thing for an entire society. We can offer a government, in short, that is American.