September 08, 2015

Republicans Can Win The Youth Vote, If We Pick Wisely

If there’s one thing that is constant about being a teacher, it is that you never quit being your students’ teacher. I mean, several former students have made that transition to colleague yet from time to time find themselves relating to me the same way they did when they were in my classroom. One of my former students took a job as a nurse in the office of one of my wife’s doctors and initially had trouble getting used to the idea that I looked to her as the expert rather than the other way around. There are advantages, no doubt, to that connection, too – I almost invariably get better treatment than I have any right to expect when I go to a restaurant or store and get assistance from one of my former students. And in recent years there are the special ones who reach out and with a friend request on Facebook after they graduate, seeking to keep the relationship we developed in the classroom alive even after they have moved on to “real life”.

It was one of this last group, a girl who I adored as a sweet ninth grader and then got to watch grow into a bright and confident young lady before she graduated a couple of years back, who sent me the following message Labor Day morning. She was full of questions at 14, and still has plenty to ask as she tries to become an informed adult in today’s rather confusing political climate

Hey, can we talk political? And I don't really mean in a debate, I just really don't know who is good to vote for. Trump is insane. Sanders is popular with my generation but he supports a lot of things I don't, gun control, de- militarizing the police, liberal stuff like that I'm not on board for. And how is he gonna make so much stuff free? Tax the hell out of us. I don't really want that. I'm just wondering is there is a likely candidate who isn't out of their mind.

How did I respond to her? I won’t go into details, beyond saying that I agreed with her observations on the two candidates she mentioned and offered her a few names – including one Democrat – who she might want to look at based upon the positions she expressed in the message and in her posts on Facebook. We chatted on and off for a while, batting around issues and ideas. It was fun – and it gave me hope.

Yes, that’s right – hope. In a day when too many of my generation have gotten caught up in the rhetoric of a reality show star who is temperamentally unfit for public office, here is one of those who is a part of a generation many conservatives have written off who is open to conservatism and isn’t falling for the cult-like candidate on either side of the spectrum. Over the course of the discussion it became clear that she wants a reason to vote for a Republican because she doesn’t like what the Democrats have to offer – but not at the cost of voting for a man whose approach to governance seems to have more in common with Mussolini than the Founding Fathers.

And the great thing is that she isn’t alone. In the first two weeks of school I’ve found a bunch of them. One of my seniors asked if he “ask a couple of questions” before he went to lunch – and we spent the whole 30 minutes of that lunch period discussing the Republican presidential candidates, some of whom he found rather appealing even as he was repulsed by rhetoric from Trump that made him, the son of Mexican immigrants, feel unwelcome in the Party of Lincoln and Reagan. Another told me about meeting the local leader of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition at an event this summer – and was surprised to learn that Ann Lee is a friend of mine. And still another has said he’s already decided to vote for Rand Paul in the Republican primary in March. Perhaps the most interesting is the African-American student who approached me after school and, after acknowledging that Barack Obama has not been a successful president, asked me why she ought to consider voting Republican.

You know what makes this the most interesting thing? As a government teacher, I go out of my way to not push my views on my students. I’m honest with them about what I think when I’m asked, but I always present the other side as well and make it clear that disagreeing with me acceptable. But what I’m finding is that these students are interested in politics and government and ready to get involved – and that they are looking for a reason to be something other than a liberal Democrat.

I've not had that happen ever before in my teaching career. That makes this phenomenon rather encouraging – but it also raises the question of whether or not we are reaching out to this generation. After all, so many of us who have been active in conservative/Republican politics these last 30 years cast our first presidential ballot for Ronald Reagan in 1984 or George Bush in 1988 – the last time the youth vote went for the Republican nominee. We have the potential to bring in the next generation of young conservatives – but that won’t happen if it means being Trump Republicans. And as all the research tells us, if young people vote for the same party in their first two or three elections, they will do generally do so for the rest of their lives. So not only is outreach important, but so is who we choose as our presidential candidate in 2016 -- because that choice will determine not only who wins in 2016, but also which party will have the advantage for the next couple decades.

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