The College Republican National Committee (CRNC) released its “Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation” report with surprisingly little fanfare, but to devastating effect.
The report rightly notes the GOP faces a “dismal present situation” when it comes to its political brand as well as its articulation of the issues.
Let’s just cut out the niceties like the report did: Inexplicably, over much of the past fifteen years, the Republican Party simply gave up competing for votes in vast regions of the country, and among huge blocks of voters.
Grabbing the GOP elephant by the trunk
That failed strategy was worse than an insult to those disenfranchised voters—it was a blunder. The predictable result was political disaster.
Even worse, the Republican Party’s political malpractice in 2012 afflicted the American people with typically self-serving, “offensive” and “polarizing” rhetoric and less than genuine efforts at “outreach”.
So it is incredibly significant that the next generation of Republican leaders have decided to grab the Elephant by the trunk and give their assessment of the party the current generation is handing to them. From gay marriage, to immigration to big government and cutting taxes, GOP millennials have sent a clear message to the Party: get in step with voters—starting with young voters.
Not bound by party lines
With an overwhelming majority of young voters seeking answers and progress on the challenges we face, Republican and Democrat candidates and elected officials cannot simply expect their respective base to achieve victories. Barack Obama proved that—especially in 2008.
In order to win, future candidates and party leaders will have to communicate a message that is not bound by party lines, but in fact pulls us together through a common vision for creating prosperity and security.
Whether as county, state or national chairman I would always entreat College and Young Republicans to step up and take charge of a party in need of their leadership too—that they no longer had to wait for permission to run for office or in fact, to run the Party.
And that’s what excites me about the CRNC report: it offers National CRNC Chairwoman Alex Smith and College and Young Republican activists across the country the tool to begin to reframe our message and to rebrand the Grand “Old” Party.
Not just ideas, but solutions
On one level I can understand why the CRNC report does not endorse specific policies, leaving such details up to elected officials and party leaders. But, if this generation of young Republican leaders is serious about turning the Elephant to face its future in an America that looks, sounds and is more accepting of different opinions like them, then they must engage the party in a serious conversation not just about ideas but solutions.
Moreover, if as the reports notes that voters view the GOP as “closed-minded, racist, rigid and old-fashioned” to name a few of the terms of endearment, then who better to lead a twenty-first century Republican Party to fight for votes everywhere than the generation that appreciates in order to win, our party must reflect more and more the communities that define twenty-first century America instead of some romanticized bygone era of America; that in order to build a governing majority party, we can take no constituency for granted and write none off.
While many Republican activists realize there is no magic formula, no secret potion nor handshake that will make the Republican Party more attractive to young voters, they readily acknowledge “[t]he Republican party has won the youth vote before and can absolutely win it again.” But to win it, activists and the party must present positive ideas and solutions to address the challenges facing the communities where the youth vote lives.
As former CRNC Chairman Alex Schriver noted “it boils down to dorm-room issues, how policies we are promoting are going to affect young people today.”
If the party successfully rebrands itself with a fresh message in which voters understand that their future is not secured by the traps of the old politics but rather by creating a legacy of ownership in one’s business, one’s home, and one’s community then it can revive itself as we briefly did in 2009-2010. But if it truly wants to be a majority party well into the future, then it must not only harness the energy, ideas and leadership of a new generation Republican leaders but actually listen to what they have to say.
Michael Steele is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2009-2011. He is now an MSNBC contributor and will be writing a regular column for theGrio.