An overwhelming majority of voters in my generation cast their first ballot for Barack Obama. Many of them voted for Obama twice, and are predisposed to vote Democratic again in 2016. Meanwhile, leaders and strategists in the Republican Party are scratching their heads over why the GOP’s brand is so unappealing to young voters, and trying to figure out how they can change that and ultimately compete for their vote going into the future. I might be able to help them out.
Understand that my generation came of age in a time of a financial crisis we didn’t create, burdened with debt we didn’t accumulate, which was racked up from tax cuts we didn’t benefit from, and two wars we didn’t start — yet we are the ones fighting it. We are paying for entitlement programs that we might not be entitled to in our retirement years if Washington, D.C. doesn’t get its act together and address their long-term solvency. We inherited a globalized world that is getting hotter, more crowded, and more competitive. And in the face of all this, we have watched for the past half-decade as the Republican Party has done nothing but insult the guy elected to deal with these crises.
The GOP’s message to young voters is “Obama is failing you” – a sad attempt to absolve itself from any responsibility for the current state of the economy. Understand a big reason Obama was elected in the first place was because the last time Republicans were in power they messed up. Big time. By just about every significant metric, our country was in horrendously worse shape when George W. Bush left office than when he took office. But instead of reevaluating and adapting itself to face the challenges of the 21st century, the Republican Party has been hijacked by intransigent ideologues who have poisoned the civility of the national discourse by spending far more time throwing insults at Obama than contributing anything remotely productive to conversations our country needs to have on pressing issues. These ideologues were only emboldened by the 2010 elections and the Tea Party victories in Republican primaries across the country. The extremist voices have drowned out the alleged voices of reason in the party, highlighting an ugly vein of intolerance the GOP needs to rid itself of if it ever wants to have broad appeal to young voters again.
What’s more disqualifying than the GOP's ideological extremism is its obstructionist approach to legislating that has paralyzed our government. Republicans' immature, absolutist philosophy of “If Obama supports it, we must oppose it” has dried out the ink of the pen that writes our country’s laws, resulting in what is perhaps the most dysfunctional and unproductive Congress in modern history. The 111th Congress of Obama’s first two years in office invested in infrastructure and tax cuts in a time of recession, passed credit card reform, addressed the issue of fair pay, regulated Wall Street, repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and made the most sweeping reforms to our country’s health care system in terms of access since the 1960s. These reforms were nowhere near perfect by any means, but at least they were serious attempts to address the issues our country is facing. Since Republicans took the House, we have not had any meaningful legislation passed, only eleventh-hour deals to self-inflicted budget crises and failed symbolic attempts to repeal Obamacare. This sends a message to young voters that the GOP is just not serious about tackling the issues that are important to us.
Couple this ideological extremism and uncompromising obstructionism with the cynical approach the GOP has to elections and you begin to understand why we might not find them all that appealing. Voter suppression laws designed for the 2012 election were passed exclusively by Republican governors, admittedly because they had no interest in seeing students or minorities turn out in high numbers to the polls. What kind of message does that send when instead of reaching out to us they try to make it as inconvenient as possible for us to vote?
By far the biggest turn-off is the GOP has become the small-tent party of exclusion. Their approach to elections has been to divide rather than unite, to alienate voting blocs rather than build coalitions. This is the exact opposite of what they need to do to win. There is also a frat-boy mentality that loyalty to the party trumps all. Perhaps nothing is more symbolic of this than when Chris Christie was trashed by the right for putting the interests of the people of his state over the interests of his party and working with Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The result was Christie and Obama looking like the only two adults in the room while those bellyaching over them putting our country first looked extremely childish a week before the election.
The GOP will not be able to cure itself of these problems in time for 2016, but if Republicans ever want to win a presidential election again, they will have to demonstrate to the American people that they have the seriousness and maturity required for governing, jettison their ideologues, and open themselves up to be a coalition-building, big tent-party with a positive message — one that is equipped to confront the challenges of the 21st Century. So far they have not.