GOPacolypse, Youth and the Right


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Writes Daniel McCarthy at

"Nov. 4 was a lucky day for Republicans. Barack Obama crushed John McCain by a landslide, but voters hedged their bets on Congress. The sheer weight of turnout for Obama shifted 24 seats in the House of Representatives and six in the Senate to the Democratic column—but the House gains were offset by four GOP pickups and a handful of races in both chambers remain too close to call. This was far from the wipeout it might have been. Voters gave congressional Republicans a reprieve, even as they resoundingly rejected McCain.

Republicans can be trusted to learn all the wrong lessons from this. Indeed, the leaders of the conservative movement, which is little more than the Republican Party in repose, have already decided not to mend their ways. At a post-election powwow held at the home of L. Brent Bozell III, the dons of the movement came together and decided that, in the words of American Spectator reporter Phil Klein, “John McCain wasn’t really a conservative.” What’s more, as one unnamed partygoer told Klein, “We’re no longer going to support Republicans who want to ‘improve’ a bad bill. We’re going to oppose all bad bills.” But what were putative conservatives doing supporting “bad bills” in the first place? And if they were willing to support bad bills under Bush, what makes anyone think they won’t support bad bills again under the next Republican president?

Of course John McCain “wasn’t really a conservative.” But neither was George W. Bush in ’00 or ’04. Neither was Bob Dole in ’96. Neither was George H.W. Bush in ’88 or ’92. The Republican Party has not nominated a conservative for president in over 20 years. Yet the movement has reliably supported the GOP’s nominees anyway. And when given the opportunity to support actual conservatives—Pat Buchanan in the Republican primaries of ’92 and ’96 (and the pre-primaries of ’99) or Ron Paul this year—where were these movement leaders? At worst they were shilling for the establishment candidate: a Bush, Dole, or McCain. Others supported the millionaire moderate du jour: Steve Forbes in ’96 or ’00, Mitt Romney this year. A bare handful, if that, sided with Buchanan or Paul. Many of these leaders got their start in the Goldwater days. But how many of them would dare support a Goldwater today?

There is a new youth movement taking shape out of the Ron Paul campaign. Over 30,000 college students were involved in Students for Ron Paul, and the Texas congressman’s college lectures—denouncing the Federal Reserve and the Iraq War and calling for a return to strict constitutionalism—electrified campuses from one end of the country to the other, in a way that no other Republican could match. The Paul campaign’s national youth coordinator, Jeff Frazee, is now building a permanent conduit for this youth activism, Young Americans for Liberty. As you can see from its website, the group is still embryonic. But it has an activist base, the beginnings of a financial network, and qualified, principled leadership. YAL should prove to be a headache for the Republican establishment.

But if the GOP is to survive at all, it will have to listen to YAL. The Republican old guard, and by extension the conservative movement, has irretrievably lost the hearts and minds of the nation’s young. As Jeffrey Hart recently observed, “[T]wo thirds of voters under 30 voted for Obama.” Many of those young people, of course, are true Obamaphiles. But many of them are young enough that they have never known any kind of conservatism except what they are told the Bushes, Dole, and McCain exemplify. Given the success of Ron Paul in attracting young people, there is every reason to think that many of them will move to the right, if they are exposed to a thoughtful and principled conservatism. If the Right is going to have any future, it must reconnect with the youth—but the youth aren’t blind, and they see the difference between a Ron Paul and a John McCain."

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