Now that the election dust has settled just weeks until President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, the Republican Party is beginning to take stock of its future beyond President Donald Trump.
For many young Republicans, Trump’s loss signals an opening for new directions within the party. Several said in interviews that they want the party to become more tolerant and inclusive while staying true to conservative values.
“The GOP has a lot of really good policy, a lot of winning policies, but it does seem like often we can get caught up on the losing ones and fight like hell for them,” said Cameron Adkins, a sophomore who is vice president of College Republicans at Columbia University. “When in reality, they’re losing issues with the American people.”
Thirty-one percent of voters ages 18 to 24 supported Trump in November, according to exit polls, down from 37 percent in 2016. The Generation Z bloc, born after 1996, makes up at least 10 percent of the U.S. population, according to a report by the Brookings Institution, and it will only grow as the next election approaches.
Adkins, 19, said he hopes the party can expand its reach by continuing to make priorities of core social issues, such as guns and abortion, while embracing a rapidly diversifying electorate by toning down its rhetoric around racial injustice, which research shows young people tend to be more tapped into.
“We should be attempting to expand our reaches, even if it does cost us” some of the more traditional Republican voters, he said. “I guess I’m willing to lose as long as we’re doing the right thing.”
Clay Robinson, a leader with College Republicans at Arizona State University, also said he wants the party to focus more on inclusivity.
“Our generation is much more concerned with social issues than, let’s say, economic issues or something different. I think it’s a sign that we really care about communities and the well-being of our people, not just their pocketbooks,” said Robinson, 19. “That’s a more holistic approach of what constitutes the health of every individual in the nation.”
Several young Republicans specifically highlighted LGBTQ rights and climate change as essential to tapping into the Gen Z bloc, because Gen Zers are familiar with those issues.
That’s why Isaiah De Alba, 19, said the Republican Party needs diverse and young perspectives like his. De Alba, who grew up in Los Angeles in a Mexican Cuban household, is the political director of the University of Oregon’s College Republicans. He voted for Trump but hopes someone who recognizes that the country “isn’t the same place it was 30, 40, 50 years ago” leads the party next.
“I think the term ‘conservatism’ has been given this really bad rep for so long,” he said, predicting that the ethos of the party will evolve to become, for example, less religious and more forward-thinking.
“I feel like that should change in a way, so that people can understand it a lot more than just ‘a bunch of old racist white people’ as they like to see it, you know, but in reality, it’s a lot more than that.”
Not all the young conservatives hope for a sea change, however. While most see a future for the party beyond the Trump presidency, Sydney Salatto expressed frustration with lawmakers who she said turned their backs on Trump after his loss.
As he continues to fight the results of the election nearly two months after it ended, Republican officials have begun to break with Trump over his spreading of unfounded claims about voter fraud and his refusal to acknowledge Biden as the winner.
“I want to see a lot of people primaried and rooted out,” said Salatto, 22, the president of a conservative women’s organization at the University of Tampa. “I think that they’re just as bad as the Democrats.”
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Salatto said that the party is no longer “one coherent group” and that lawmakers who are distancing themselves from Trump are “not serving” their constituents.
Still, despite the dissonance, all of the young voters said Trumpism is here to stay.
Robinson said that while he supports Trump’s “America First” policies, they might not be best championed by Trump himself. He said the party needs someone who “doesn’t necessarily turn people off like Trump does.”
They’re holding out for new faces to lead the country.
“It’s going to be hard to stay relevant and to be re-elected,” Robinson said. “People speak at the ballot box, and if they’re unwilling to address these issues, then they’re going to pay the price.”