Young Republicans chime in ahead of the GOP's big night 🔔
Young Republicans were some of the first to call out the GOP’s youth vote problem after the '22 midterms. 3 young Republican leaders share what they're looking for at the first 2024 primary debate.
Young Republicans were some of the first to sound alarm bells about the GOP’s youth vote problem after the 2022 midterm elections — calling out their party for not communicating with young people on issues front and center in their lives. These leaders asked their older counterparts to engage directly with young Americans, who have historically leaned left and overwhelmingly voted for Democrats in November.
Championing issues like reproductive healthcare access, climate action, college affordability, and gun safety, Democrats have campaigned on topics front of mind for many young voters.
In turn, young Republicans like Karoline Leavitt, one of the first Gen Zers to run for Congress, suggested the GOP do more to push back. “The most colossal challenge facing the GOP is the inability to resonate with the most-influential voting bloc in our electorate – my generation, Generation Z,” Leavitt wrote in a Fox op-ed last year. The former congressional candidate is now a spokesperson for MAGA Inc., a super PAC aligned with former President Donald Trump.
Not all young people are Democrats, and in the months since the midterms, research has shown that young people are identifying as independents. Anecdotally, in conversations I’ve had with 18-29-year-olds, I’ve found the same to be true. By and large, this cohort is prioritizing issues, rather than political party.
Recognizing an opportunity to try to engage with this demographic, the Republican National Committee has partnered with Young America’s Foundation (YAF) (founded to engage young conservatives and led by former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker) and online video platform Rumble, popular amongst some conservatives, to host the first debate of the Republican primary cycle tonight in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
YAF is hosting a pre-debate “Block Party” featuring conservative leaders and influencers that’s “free and open to students of all ages, young adults, alumni, and families,” the group says on its website.
Despite the fact that Trump said he will skip the official debate, national coverage has focused heavily on him and how his absence will impact tonight’s dynamics — as well as who could prove themself as a strong force in his place. In lieu of the debate, Trump reportedly pre-taped an interview with Tucker Carlson that will air on X (previously Twitter), which could attract younger audiences, too.
Earlier this week, I checked in with some young Republicans to hear their thoughts on the upcoming showdown — and what youth involvement around the debate looks like.
Here’s some of what they had to say:
Joe Mitchell, 26, Founder of Run GenZ, a group that recruits, trains, and mentors young conservatives to run for state and local office
Mitchell emphasized that tonight’s debate will still very much be the Trump show, without Trump in attendance. He said he expects the slate of candidates to do a delicate dance of not outright bashing the former president, while simultaneously differentiating themselves as an alternative to him.
“I think by and large if you are Gen Z - if you’re not a Trump supporter, you’re looking for someone who can be a viable candidate, who can be the nominee to beat Biden,” Mitchell told The Up and Up — though he noted there are quite a few young Republicans who still strongly support Trump, including some affiliated with groups like Turning Point USA and Log Cabin Republicans.
Brilyn Hollyand, 17, Editor in Chief of ‘The Truth Gazette’ and Co-Chair of the Republican National Committee’s youth advisory council
Hollyhand said he “first got interested in politics watching the 2016 primary debates at the age of 10.” Now, given his role with the RNC’s youth advisory council, he said tonight’s debate provides a full-circle moment.
Asked what issues he’s hoping the candidates discuss, Hollyhand said: “I want to hear the candidates talk about the issue that matters most to my generation - the economy.“
He stressed that streaming on Rumble is a good add for young viewers who may not watch cable news. “The RNC has partnered with Rumble to stream the debate while it is being broadcasted on Fox News! This is a historic opportunity for my generation to have a free front row seat to the debate stage Wednesday night,” Hollyhand said.
Hollyhand spent the day Wednesday in youth focused conversations in Milwaukee.
Danielle Butcher Franz, 26, CEO of American Conservation Coalition (ACC), a youth-led conservative environmental organization
Asked what topics she hopes the GOP candidates discuss, Butcher Franz unsurprisingly said: “climate change.” She said that while, “there’s strong bipartisan consensus on the reality of climate change,” she added that, “there's a disconnect on the effectiveness of climate policies.”
“Republicans now have the opportunity to leave a climate legacy and champion the issue with solutions that Americans want. Ignoring climate change is a missed opportunity to align with public sentiment, and an even bigger miss for the planet,” Butcher Franz told The Up and Up.
Asked if she has any concerns about the debate, Butcher Franz said:
“Republicans cannot continue to play defense on climate change. It’s time for candidates to face climate head on and provide confident, clear, and consistent solutions. They can fumble on climate change or they can win over young voters – but they can’t do both.”
ACC is sponsoring the Milwaukee 2024 Host Committee’s official afterparty, and Butcher Franz highlighted her excitement about the partnership.
“This debate is historic – it’s the first time in recent history that an environmental organization has been front and center at a GOP presidential debate. We’re excited by the partnership and believe it's an excellent opportunity to engage young voters. ACC and YAF’s participation is a great first step, but when it comes to Republicans and engaging young voters – there is always more work to do,” Butcher Franz said.
Many young voters are dreading the idea of a Trump Biden rematch
Spoiler alert: Many young people are not excited about the idea of a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Ahead of tonight’s debate, my latest piece for Teen Vogue grapples with youth voter disillusionment and 2024's déjà vu nature. Some touched on recent political events, such as Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action and student debt forgiveness, that have left many young people feeling jaded.
Youth vote in the news 🗞
Op-ed: ‘Gen Z and millennials will be key in future elections— so how do we reach them?’, Verneé Green for The Hill
Local Gen Z politicians pushing to become leaders of today, Khari Thompson and Tiziana Dearing for WBUR Radio Boston