Young Republicans see rocky future if party doesn’t change
By Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel, 5:26 pm, November 15, 2013
Young Republicans are increasingly worried that their party is doing so much to alienate their peers that it’s an endangered species, facing an increasingly tough time winning big elections.
The problem is especially pronounced in South Florida, with its liberal social views and diverse population, which make it especially difficult to sell the Republican brand to young voters, party activists say.
As the national organization of Young Republicans joins with the statewide Florida group at the GALLERYone DoubleTree Suites Hotel in Fort Lauderdale this weekend for schooling, strategizing and socializing, many are calling on the party to change — fast.
“It’s what we face every day as young Republicans,” said Daniel Ruoss, 33, former vice chairman of the Florida Federation of Young Republicans and current board member of the Young Republican National Federation. “There is a stereotype out there of Republicans as old and white, pro-big business, screw the poor.”
Dan Daley, 23, a Republican and elected city commissioner in Coral Springs, said legions of younger voters are turned off by many of the party’s positions. “There is very little doubt the party needs to change,” Daley said. “The party needs to get away from focusing on the social issues and more on the fiscal issues.”
It’s a critical topic for young Republicans at their weekend conference.
Robert Watson, a professor of American studies at Lynn University in Boca Raton, said there is a “real disconnect” between young voters and Republican positions on issues such as same-sex marriage, marijuana decriminalization, abortion and immigration reform.
“You might scare the hell out of a 65-year-old when you say the Democrats want all this immigration,” Watson said. “But every student on campus has a good friend who’s a native Spanish speaker.”
Until this month, Daniel Mulieri, 24, was a precinct committeeman and vice president of the Weston Republican Club. Now he’s quitting his party posts and has registered as a Democrat mainly because of widespread Republican opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.
Ruoss, a past president of the Broward Young Republicans who lives in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, said economic issues resonate when he talks to people younger than 40 who are just having kids. “The fiscal issues make sense to them. The role of government issue makes sense to them, staying out of your life.”
Daley, who supports same-sex marriage, said the widespread opposition in the party makes it look out of touch to potential young voters, even those who aren’t gay.
Others disagree. “If the Republican Party goes down this road, then the Republican Party is completely through. Completely through. I mean they would never win another major election if they go down the road of supporting same-sex marriage,” said the Rev. O’Neal Dozier, pastor of Worldwide Christian Center in Pompano Beach and a Republican committeeman.
Beyond issues, Watson and many Republicans said the party hasn’t done a good job utilizing technology and selling itself to younger voters through social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Daley said improving communication won’t help without policy changes. “If the message is bad, it doesn’t matter how you message people.
Plenty of young people have long seen the Republican Party as a bastion of middle-aged and older white men who have little to offer to them. But concern among insiders has grown since the 2012 presidential election, when Republicans did well “capturing folks like me, which are white males,” said former Republican U.S. Sen. George LeMeiux, of Lighthouse Point. “If we’re going to be successful as a party, we need to be able to tell our story to certainly women and Hispanics and young people.”
Brittany Bruce, 26, isn’t convinced the situation is dire. Bruce, a Republican committeewoman and president of the Palm Beach County Young Republicans, said her party’s stands on economics and freedom are so superior to Democratic policies that it doesn’t need to change on social issues.
“If we start falling into another recession, who cares who can get married?” Bruce said. “I’m about liberty. I’m about freedom. I’m not about a nanny state. I don’t want such high taxation. I feel I know best what to do with my money.”
Other Republicans said economics could pull young people away from the Democrats, especially if the Affordable Care Act requirement that everyone buy health insurance turns into a costly headache.
“You’re seeing right now with the Obamacare fiasco a great time to market to young people,” LeMieux said. “I think that’s going to be a wakeup call for young people that the Democratic Party’s not in their corner.”
Margi Helschien, president of the Independent Conservative Action Network and past president of the Boca Raton Republican Club, is optimistic that younger voters can be lured to the Republican Party. “There will be some rising star who can bring us back together like Ronald Reagan.”
Ruoss agrees: “What I’m really hopeful for is that at least in 2016 there will be a whole crop of candidates who are not retreads.”
Daniel Mulieri, 24, explains why he left the Republican Party and joined the Democrats at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.