If Republicans Want Young Voters, Maybe They Should Just Stop Being Bigots
No Rick Perry, YOU'RE the asshole. Photo via Flickr user Mark Taylor
The Republicans want me to vote for them. The GOP hasn’t talked to me yet personally, but a couple weeks ago they released a long report all about their well-documented failure to attract young people to their “brand” (Obama had a 5 million–voter edge among Americans under 30) and possible ways to solve that problem. I’m likely one of the voters they want to persuade—I’m young, I don’t particularly like the Democrats, and I didn’t vote for Obama last year. I agree to some extent with a lot of stuff Republicans say they’re in favor of, like limited government, letting state and local governments make their own laws, and a simpler tax system. If a Republican candidate for president was, say, opposed to the war on drugs and government surveillance programs, and in favor of closing prisons, I wouldn’t dismiss him out of hand, as I think a bunch of my liberal friends would.
The report documenting what the GOP can do to attract young voters, titled “Grand Old Party of a Brand New Generation,” lists several ways that Republicans can reach out to voters. “Capture the brand attributes of intelligence, hard work, and responsibility” is one, “Focus on the economic issues that affect young people today,” is another; there’s also a lot in there about how the party needs to be better with technology and social media. Then there’s this:
“On the ‘open-minded’ issue, yes, we will face serious difficulty so long as the issue of gay marriage remains on the table. In the short term, the party ought to promote the diversity of thought within its ranks and make clear that we welcome healthy debate on the policy topic at hand. We should also strongly oppose the use of anti-gay rhetoric.”
Ah, the “open-minded” issue! The difficulty the Republicans have, see, in attracting young people is that the GOP tends to hate gays, and young people see that for the vile bigotry it is. Not all Republicans hate gays—actually, a recent poll showed that a majority of them support gay marriage, as do three Republican senators. But all of the mainstream GOP politicians with any national profile have expressed anti-gay views. Chris Christie vetoed a gay marriage bill. Rick Perry clearly thinks gays should be second-class citizens. Bobby Jindal supports “traditional marriage.” Marco Rubio believes that gay parents are less competent than straight ones. And Rand Paul—the “maverick” in this crowd—has said that while gay marriage should be left up to the states, he’s also said that he hopes anti-gay marriage advocates “can win back the hearts and minds of people.” Meanwhile, less-important politicians who nonetheless have the backing of the GOP, like E.W. Jackson, who’s running for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, go on the record saying horrific things about gays being “very sick people psychologically.”
This isn’t a question about how to reach young influencers through social media or some other combination of buzzwords. Downplaying social issues, as various conservative groups that targeted young voters did in 2012, doesn't help either. It’s not about, as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was quoted as saying in the report, changing the “pizza box” instead of the “pizza.” The homophobic, intolerant pizza is the problem. It's not the GOP's phrasing, it's what it's saying that makes young voters so turned off.
Of course, the Republican base doesn’t think their candidates should change on these issues. The evangelical Christians who are the most vocal, active members of the party—50 percent of the 2012 GOP primary voters were white evangelicals—probably agreed with Mike Huckabee when he said he’d “stick with Jesus” and preserve “the holiness of marriage.” These are the same social conservatives who put an anti-porn plank in the GOP platform last year, and who like it when Bobby Jindal writes some stupid shit about liberals wanting to ration red meat. They’re organized enough to control the party through elections, too—when four GOP state senators in New York voted to legalize same-sex marriage last year, three of them lost their reelection bids.
Conservative columnists enjoy writing nonsense about how the GOP “needs to become more socially inclusive without becoming socially liberal” or how the party will “need not only more youthful and media savvy leaders but also a willingness to be tolerant of, without necessarily endorsing, gay marriage.” The simpler way to say it is that Republicans look intolerant and closed-minded because their party backs intolerant and closed-minded policies and rejects candidates who don’t pander to the bigotry of a loud minority.
Maybe someday the GOP will ditch that minority, or those assholes will simply die out, and dissatisfied voters like me will become Republicans. But I can’t see that happening when the party is still trying to sanitize and downplay its virulent homophobia instead of eliminating it. Oh well. Maybe they’ll figure it out in a couple of decades.
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