For many members of Generation Z, President’s Donald Trump defeat in the 2020 election was the first loss in their voting lives.
Business Insider recently spoke to the senior members of five college Republican groups across the country for their reaction.
But they also said the GOP needs to reassess its image and platform to win over their fellow Gen Zers, including getting serious about tackling climate change and making the economy fairer.
While they said they were pleased with some of Trump’s accomplishments in office, they were largely critical of his personality and had mixed feelings about Trump’s future in the GOP.
Perhaps the biggest blow a US political party can suffer is having a one-term president — so you may think young Republicans these days are downbeat about the future. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Business Insider recently spoke to the senior members of five college Republican groups across the country on their feelings about President Donald Trump and the election. All five of the college Republican leaders who spoke to us were men — reflecting the still overwhelmingly male makeup of the party.
Far from mourning Trump’s defeat, the five young men were optimistic about their party’s better-than-expected down-ballot performance, believing it to be a sign that the GOP is alive and well.
But they also didn’t shy away from critiquing the current state of Republicanism, and even Trump’s personality.
Generation Z, who currently range in age from 8 to 23, and their immediate elders, the millennials — who are currently aged between 24 and 39 — have so far proven to be solidly Democratic voting blocs.
Sixty-one percent of voters aged 18 to 29 voted for Biden this year, and just 36% voted for Trump, according to an analysis by Tufts University. A similar trend played out in 2016, when 55% of the same demographic voted Democrat and 37% Republican, Tufts reported.
‘Pleasantly surprised’ by the election
The college Republicans we spoke to largely believe their cohort will follow the trend of previous generations, and grow more politically conservative with age.
They also didn’t see the loss of the White House as part of a greater GOP issue. Instead, they took the fact that the Republicans gained seats in the House, and look poised to tie or keep their majority in the Senate, as evidence that Trump’s loss had more to do with the president than with the Republican platform.
Wesley Donhauser, president of the Harvard College Republicans, told Business Insider that he was “pleasantly surprised and very happy” with the results of the 2020 election.
“Overall the media and pundits were predicting some sort of blue wave and I think what we saw was profoundly the opposite,” Donhauser said. “So it seems to be a rejection of Trump the man, and not the party platform or ideology.”
Philip Anderson, co-chair of the Marquette University College Republicans, also said he was encouraged seeing new demographics voting red.
“I think the Republican party is getting a little bit younger, a little bit more diverse, which is definitely good,” Anderson said.
How the GOP can work for Gen Z
While generally optimistic about the 2020 election, all the young Republicans we spoke to had ideas on how the party could evolve, especially if it wants to win over more Gen Zers down the line.
They cited issues like the party’s image as cold-hearted capitalists and its refusal to address climate change as factors that could alienate a younger voting demographic.
“Republicans have a stronger grasp on running the country efficiently with things like the economy or foreign relations, but besides the economy, people vote on social issues such as free healthcare, LGBTQ rights, and other important issues,” said David Morgan, chief of staff for the Penn State College Republicans.
“I think there needs to be some compromise on these issues from Republicans in order to win over the newer voting generation.”
Jack Patton, chair of the University of Southern California GOP, identified climate change as another problem area for Republicans.
“One thing that I do find me and Democrats agreeing on a lot is actually climate change. We need to do something about climate change,” he said.
“I think that’s more of a generational gap where a lot of young people, regardless of their political affiliation, recognize that climate change is a problem and want to see some sort of solution to it.”
Joe Pitts, president of the Arizona State University College Republicans, added that one “big” issue for the party is its stance on the economy, with younger people looking for a system that’s fairer.
He said the party should focus on making sure that marginalized groups “have the same equal opportunity as anybody else in this country.”
One thing Pitts does not see going away, however, is the right’s anti-abortion stance.
“I do think that some of these social issues like the right to life are going to continue to be a staple of the conservative movement,” Pitts said. “And in my opinion, for the better.”
A recent Pew survey found that nearly all Republicans in Congress are against abortion, but that there is a significant contingent of Republican voters who disagree with their party on the matter.
The GOP’s image problem
Anderson, the Marquette Republican, said he thinks part of the Republican Party’s problem is not so much its platform, but its inability to explain that platform to younger people.
He said he believes young people are a lot more conservative than they may realize.
“Everybody wants freedom … and yet a lot of those same people will tend to vote for government control, whether it’s energy to combat the climate crisis or whether it’s forcing the minimum wage to be raised continuously to combat poverty,” Anderson said.
“And it’s stuff like that that slowly erodes people’s freedoms.”
“Lower taxes means more freedom for you. It means that you can do what you want with your own dollar,” he said.
Trump’s pros — and cons
Reconnecting with the average American was one of the good things to come out of the Trump administration, Anderson said.
“He showed the Republicans where we needed to change as well, getting back to the common man and manufacturing jobs. He definitely connected with a whole segment of the population that clearly people weren’t connecting with,” Anderson said.
Though all of the young Republicans we spoke to were fans of many of Trump’s actions in office — like installing conservative judges across the country — they were less enthusiastic about his personality.
They criticized his tweets and negative rhetoric, with Anderson comparing Trump to a hammer: “He definitely hit some nails on the head and that was good, but there were definitely times when he hit our finger and it hurt like a b—-.”
Despite their issues with Trump’s character, both Anderson and Pitts said they voted for him this year. Donhauser did not say who he voted for when asked, while Morgan said he couldn’t vote because the mail-in ballot he ordered never arrived.
Patton said he “couldn’t in good faith support” Trump after seeing how “problematic his whole presidency was,” so he voted for the Libertarian candidate, Jo Jorgensen, instead.
The future of Trumpism
There wasn’t a good consensus among the young Republicans on what they thought Trump’s future holds.
Donhauser, the Harvard Republican, said he doesn’t think Trump will remain a force in the party.
Anderson said he saw Trump going into TV — a prediction that might come true — while Patton says he worries about Trump following through on his threat to run for president again in 2024.
Sources close to the president recently told The Washington Post that Trump is figuring out ways to make money after leaving the White House, including a possible book deal, media appearances, and selling rally tickets.
“He’d probably win the primary, but it would be really bad for the party in the long term,” Patton said, but adding: “Trumpism will probably be around for the better part of the 2020s.”
Going forward, Patton said that he hopes the Republican Party takes the concerns of young voters into consideration.
“I think they do need to take the opinions of young voters seriously, because 15 years from now we will be the bulk of the voting bloc,” Patton said.
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