On Tuesday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) visited Georgetown to speak with a student audience about conservatism, the upcoming election, and the Republican Party’s future. One theme that arose during his talk was the similar, but non-identical, relationship between Republicans and the conservative movement. While having recently had to choose between ‘being shot or being poisoned’ during the GOP primary in my home state of Arizona, this is an identity difference I took to heart – and I think all young voters should as well.
In recent years, the Republican Party has largely let its own constituents down. Voters across the country gave the GOP every majority they legally could – a majority in the Senate, a majority in the House, and a majority of governorships across the U.S. Yet despite these majorities, what do Republican voters have to show for this amazing mobilization and support for their candidates? Obamacare? An ever-growing debt? Blame for a government shutdown?
From this list alone, it appears obvious that Republican representatives, try as they might, have failed to overcome a stubborn Democratic contingent in Congress to pass meaningful laws that they promised to pursue. And in doing so, they’ve seemed awfully complacent in their failure. For me, this reality is beyond frustrating. How can we make the Republican Party more effective in advancing conservative reforms, principles, and leadership?
It was this question in my head that Sen. Mike Lee unknowingly helped answer this past Tuesday. The way we improve the Republican Party is by injecting new leaders into it, or at least by helping those in place now to better understand GOP voters and our beliefs. In recent weeks, Speaker Paul Ryan (let’s be real, most of us wouldn’t mind if he were the nominee) has begun to embody what the future of the Republican Party needs to look like. He has been relatable, honest, and compassionate – characteristics I always thought the Republican Party embodied until recently. For young Republicans, the future of the GOP must be molded to re-embrace these characteristics and to reorient the Party to prioritize people’s economic, social, and religious well-being and security.
The unfortunate reality that awaits the Republican Party is a widespread replacement of its elected representatives with a new batch of candidates in upcoming midterms. In light of Donald Trump’s rise, it may be attractive for this new wave of Republicans to be populist-minded and rhetorically-gifted, neither of which will help the Republican Party return to its foundational belief that people have the power to make their lives better and to achieve success through their own labors.
In a bigger picture assessment of the GOP post-2016, I encourage young voters to start thinking about the divide between conservatism and Republicanism. The former, as Sen. Lee described, consists of caring about one another and working through limited government to empower individuals of all backgrounds to achieve their goals and aspirations. The latter, at least as of late, is simply not the same. It has fallen short in promoting the conservative, compassionate values that young Republicans hold deeply.
Regardless of how messy the presidential campaign ends in November (spoiler alert: it’s going to be very messy), the past few months have provided conservatives the opportunity to reevaluate what it means to be conservative, how best to promote our principles, and what we can do to improve the country in the future. Senator Lee helped initiate this process on Tuesday, and I implore the rest of us to begin it as the presidential campaign and political catfights continue to escalate into the summer.