How Repub­li­cans can court the selfie set.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Car­los Lozada Twit­ter: @Car­losLozadaWP Car­los Lozada is the non­fic­tion book critic of The Washington Post.

The only thing less orig­i­nal than the selfie as a form of ex­pres­sion is the selfie as short­hand for a gen­er­a­tion. So I was in­clined to dis­trust “The Selfie Vote,” Repub­li­can poll­ster Kris­ten Soltis An­der­son’s look at how mil­len­ni­als are trans­form­ing Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. I re­mem­ber how an­noy­ing it was back in the 1990s when “slacker” be­came the oblig­a­tory ref­er­ence to my gen­er­a­tion. I bet mil­len­ni­als get a lit­tle tired of be­ing re­duced to “self­ies,” too.

But as I be­gan to read, I re­al­ized that the ti­tle is apt. An­der­son has writ­ten a selfie in book form. She has taken var­i­ous snap­shots of her gen­er­a­tion’s po­lit­i­cal lean­ings — in her early 30s, she is a mil­len­nial her­self — and now hopes they’ll be shared and liked widely. Her main au­di­ence is the lead­er­ship of the Grand Old Party (with em­pha­sis on “old”), which she thinks risks ob­so­les­cence un­less it man­ages to at­tract younger vot­ers.

“It’s no se­cret that the GOP has had a hard time win­ning over the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion — the new­est vot­ers in the elec­torate — and that this has made it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for Repub­li­cans to win elec­tions,” An­der­son writes. It’s not a new ar­gu­ment, but the au­thor de­serves credit for avoid­ing the easy route. While so many politi­cians and strate­gists seem to think sim­ply slap­ping some­thing up on so­cial media or snag­ging a celebrity endorsement means you’re down with the kids, An­der­son painstak­ingly ex­am­ines the tech­nol­ogy, con­sumer habits and per­sonal val­ues shap­ing mil­len­nial pol­i­tics, look­ing for ways con­ser­va­tives can adapt or re­in­force their prin­ci­ples to ap­peal to this group.

Some of her pro­pos­als are small-bore; it’s not clear how suc­cess­ful Repub­li­cans will be with young vot­ers even if they adopt the en­tirety of An­der­son’s agenda. Nonethe­less, it seems quite clear that they’ll have lit­tle chance if they ig­nore her rec­om­men­da­tions al­to­gether. “The media cov­er­age of Repub­li­can strug­gles with young vot­ers of­ten fo­cuses heav­ily on the ob­vi­ous points of gen­er­a­tional dis­agree­ment,” An­der­son writes with op­ti­mism, “but I be­lieve there is a far wider ar­ray of ar­eas where young vot­ers and con­ser­va­tive ideas over­lap.”

One of these ar­eas, she con­tends, is ed­u­ca­tion. “Nei­ther party has par­tic­u­larly stepped up as a cham­pion of re­form for K-12 or higher ed­u­ca­tion,” An­der­son notes. She sees a con­ser­va­tive op­por­tu­nity with young peo­ple fac­ing heavy col­lege debts and in need of cheaper, higher-tech mod­els of in­struc­tion. She calls for pro­grams to make stu­dent loan re­pay­ment more man­age­able — peg­ging pay­ments to in­come lev­els, like tax with­hold­ing — and urges Repub­li­cans to sup­port and experiment with al­ter­na­tive teach­ing mod­els, such as online cour­ses aimed at tech­ni­cal fields and at de­vel­op­ing “mid­dle skills” in high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing, health care and other grow­ing in­dus­tries.

“We should be fo­cused on giv­ing peo­ple more choice and flex­i­bil­ity in how they build their skills,” she ex­plains. “Cham­pi­oning tech­nol­ogy as a way to cre­ate greater choice, greater cost sav­ings, and bet­ter learn­ing is an ob­vi­ous step Repub­li­cans can take to help young peo­ple.”

An­der­son also ex­am­ines how mil­len­ni­als pre­fer to live: in dense, ur­ban ar­eas and closer to their neigh­bors; they’re less fo­cused on big lawns and cars than on walk­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties, car shar­ing and public trans­porta­tion. This is nor­mally con­sid­ered bad news for Repub­li­cans; city­d­wellers lean Demo­cratic. But she points to ef­forts by con­ser­va­tives to ally them­selves with Uber against unions and over­reg­u­la­tion of ur­ban trans­porta­tion as an ex­am­ple of how to win back ur­ban­ites. “Repub­li­cans can look to some of our na­tion’s cities to find plen­ti­ful ex­am­ples of big gov­ern­ment, union power, and over­reg­u­la­tion gone ter­ri­bly awry, where young res­i­dents are look­ing for choices, ef­fi­ciency and tech­nol­ogy to solve the prob­lems they face.”

In An­der­son’s telling, even di­verse racial and eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties — the same that formed such a key part of the Obama coali­tion — hold op­por­tu­ni­ties for Repub­li­cans. Af­ter all, win­ning the “youth vote” and win­ning the “Latino vote” are in­creas­ingly in­ter­twined ob­jec­tives. Though she thinks that GOP sup­port for com­pre­hen­sive immigration re­form makes sense, she un­der­stands that such a move “is

not a magic spell for win­ning over young His­panic vot­ers.” These vot­ers, like many oth­ers, care deeply about eco­nomic is­sues and equal op­por­tu­nity, and those are the themes Repub­li­cans need to em­pha­size, she says.

In the ef­fort to at­tract black vot­ers, An­der­son ze­roes in on the vast dis­par­i­ties in en­force­ment, sen­tenc­ing and in­car­cer­a­tion in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. “One in twelve workingage African Amer­i­can men is in jail . . . [and] many of those who are in jail for non­vi­o­lent of­fenses might not be there if their skin was a dif­fer­ent color.” Repub­li­cans are of­ten re­luc­tant to wade into these wa­ters, An­der­son ad­mits, pre­fer­ring to stick with tough-on-crime plat­forms. But she be­lieves that the con­ser­va­tive case for jus­tice re­form is sound: “We can ac­knowl­edge that po­lice have an in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult job, putting their lives on the line to pro­tect us, and also say we need to find ways to pre­vent the next Eric Garner tragedy.”

In ad­di­tion to re­duc­ing the ex­pense that re­sults from need­lessly in­car­cer­at­ing so many peo­ple, jus­tice re­form is pro-fam­ily. Chil­dren with a par­ent in prison are cut off from all man­ner of eco­nomic and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties, she writes. “To be a po­lit­i­cal party that cham­pi­ons free­dom, fam­ily and op­por­tu­nity, it is es­sen­tial to ac­knowl­edge where the gov­ern­ment has thrown up road­blocks — road­blocks that par­tic­u­larly af­fect Amer­i­cans from com­mu­ni­ties of color.”

These pro­pos­als, and oth­ers An­der­son out­lines in “The Selfie Vote,” feel like sen­si­ble ideas that many politi­cians, not just Repub­li­cans, can get be­hind. But what of is­sues where the party ap­pears fun­da­men­tally out of step with the younger gen­er­a­tion, not to men­tion most of the coun­try? For many mil­len­ni­als, An­der­son notes, op­po­si­tion to same-sex mar­riage is a deal­breaker; no mat­ter where a politi­cian stands on other mat­ters, young vot­ers have a hard time sup­port­ing some­one who is not in fa­vor of mar­riage equal­ity. “I think it is in­evitable that the Repub­li­can Party’s po­si­tion on this is­sue will change one day,” she writes. “And I hope that day comes sooner rather than later.” Fine, but how to make that hap­pen?

And An­der­son en­tirely side­steps for­eign pol­icy and na­tional se­cu­rity, on the ra­tio­nale that “ev­ery day could mean an es­ca­la­tion of ten­sions or a ter­ror­ist at­tack that pro­foundly al­ters the land­scape.” Sure, but that is pre­cisely why those are­nas mat­ter, es­pe­cially among a vot­ing pop­u­la­tion that has grown weary of wars launched un­der Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions.

By An­der­son’s own anal­y­sis, it may be get­ting late for Repub­li­cans and mil­len­ni­als to get to­gether. “Once a brand is as­so­ci­ated with cer­tain at­ti­tudes in our minds, it is tough to break that first im­pres­sion.” And the im­pres­sion of the Repub­li­can Party that she finds among young vot­ers is hardly en­cour­ag­ing: “closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fash­ioned.” These aren’t peo­ple, she ad­mits, who will nec­es­sar­ily grow more con­ser­va­tive as they get older.

With­out deeper soul-search­ing by the GOP and a sus­tained out­reach to com­mu­ni­ties it has pre­vi­ously ne­glected (be­yond just elec­tion sea­son), it’s hard to see how An­der­son’s pro­pos­als alone would per­suade mil­len­ni­als to give the GOP a sec­ond look. Then again, I’m just a Gen X slacker, so what do I know? An­der­son is hope­ful, cit­ing the near-uni­ver­sal pop­u­lar­ity of Pope Fran­cis as a sign that a fresh leader can re­ha­bil­i­tate the rep­u­ta­tion of a stodgy, tra­di­tional in­sti­tu­tion. A con­vert to Catholi­cism, An­der­son thinks Fran­cis has done more than sim­ply re­brand the faith; in a self-ab­sorbed world, he has put the call to serve oth­ers at the fore­front of his mes­sage.

No­to­ri­ously non­judg­men­tal, mil­len­ni­als care lit­tle about how you live your life, fo­cus­ing more on fair­ness, car­ing and avoid­ing harm to oth­ers. An­der­son high­lights the pro­pos­als of Rep. Paul Ryan ( Wis.) and Sen. Mike Lee (Utah), as well as re­form-con­ser­va­tive thinker Yu­val Levin, to ar­gue that the con­ser­va­tive pref­er­ence for lo­cal so­lu­tions and a com­mit­ment to com­mu­nity may broaden the party’s ap­peal. Those guys may not quite be Pope Fran­cis, but An­der­son be­lieves that Repub­li­cans have a shot with mil­len­ni­als if they can show “how our con­vic­tions don’t just com­pel us to cut taxes for rich peo­ple but in­stead to ap­ply our be­liefs to im­prov­ing the sta­tus of the least for­tu­nate.”

That would con­sti­tute a rather sig­nif­i­cant sta­tus up­date by the Repub­li­can Party. But in An­der­son’s telling, it’s a mes­sage mil­len­ni­als might like. Or at least “like.”


Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Jeb Bush leans in for a selfie at a food truck. Kris­ten Soltis An­der­son ar­gues that the GOP faces ob­so­les­cence with­out mil­len­ni­als’ votes.

THE SELFIE VOTE Where Mil­len­ni­als Are Lead­ing Amer­ica (and How Repub­li­cans Can Keep Up) By Kris­ten Soltis An­der­son Broad­side. 262 pp. $26.99

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