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Is youth the answer for the Republicans in 2016?

March 4, 2013   ·   0 Comments


To give the Republicans a new lease of life requires an injection of youth to mix with experience.

With Mitt Romney following his nominee predecessor John McCain’s fate in losing to President Obama back in November, the Republicans have another four years of soul-searching ahead of the next war for the White House in 2016.

Many challenges face the party running up to the election. The inter-party divisions between the moderates, social conservatives and the Tea Party movement remain very much alive, they face a long four years of an emboldened Obama administration following its election victory, and the quest to find a candidate to face a new Democratic challenger begins in earnest. The formula for electoral success remains simple: appeal to the party faithful, yet be broad enough to steal votes from the centre and independent blocs. The catch-all party strategy.

Selecting a face for the party would kill both birds with one stone. An effective leader not only unites the party faithful, but also appeals to swing voters, particularly in battleground states. This is not exactly complex stuff for political analysts or electoral strategists; rather, the challenge is finding another Abraham Lincoln, another Theodore Roosevelt, another Ronald Reagan. Who can appeal to the working, middle and upper classes? Who can attract both males and females? Who captures the needs of a person voting for the first time, to a person who has been voting for as long as he or she can remember? What about race politics – the Asian vote, the Latino vote, the African-American vote, the white vote – who can appeal across the multicultural spectrum?

Obama had the attributes required to be an electable candidate. He is strongly moderate, thus making himself appealing to both Democratic party members and the precious independent vote. He sympathises on abortion yet is tough on gun law, making him more appealing to women. He made great use of the internet and social media which led to great success with younger voters. His African roots likely made inroads with non-whites.  Crucially, his “Change” slogan, coupled with his youthful image of fresh political ideas in response to eight years of president Bush, energised the electorate, particularly amongst young voters.

McCain and Romney, it could be argued, represent a dated Republican strategy that has now surely had its day. Both are male, white, rich and – of importance to this article – older than President Obama. In today’s America, the Republicans are seen as the party of the privileged, the party of men, the party of business. This has not only led to struggles to attract women and non-whites, but also young voters who, despite a turbulent first term for President Obama, still voted for him in greater numbers than for Romney. Of the young voters who would have voted Republican, they instead opted for strict Constitutionalist Ron Paul – a highly popular choice for young right-leaning Americans.

In an era of political campaigning where parties have taken chances on youth, the Republicans seem determined in selecting seasoned campaigners. Whereas this has its advantages – experience being the key benefit – it also represents a party that, to take the monicker literally, is a Grand Old Party, refusing to adapt to a modern world. All three major parties here in Britain have resorted to younger leaders in recent times: Labour ended 18 years of Conservative dominance with a 43-year-old Tony Blair, the Conservatives wrestled it back under David Cameron – also 43 – who in turn agreed to share power with the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg. Aged 43.

In exchange for experience, a party with a young leader gets instead the image of being enthusiastic, a breath of fresh air with new politics for a new era of government. That is why the Republicans may well take a chance on someone such as 41-year-old Marco Rubio.

Rubio has all the attributes that would make a perfect catch-all candidate. Not only is he young, but as his name suggests, he is of Cuban heritage – working class at that. Thus not only can he appeal to non-white voters, but his parents’ story of rags-to-riches brings up the classic ideal of the American Dream, suggesting that you don’t have to be white and rich to make it in this country. He is also highly popular with the Tea Party movement who gave his 2010 run for the Senate a huge boost due to his beliefs on cutting tax and reducing government size. This would also, crucially, attract the votes of disaffected young Republicans who voted for Ron Paul due to his strong views on reducing federal spending and limiting government waste. Perhaps above all else, his speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention won many plaudits, demonstrating that the young senator could give President Obama’s replacement a good run for his or her money in the charisma department.

To give the party a new lease of life requires an injection of youth to mix with experience, and as observed through Senator Rubio, Governor Nikki Haley (41) and Romney’s vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan (43), the Republicans may have already sown the seeds for presidential fruit.

Photo credit: Bill McChesney

Michael Foley

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