Conservatism and nationalism have historically been hard sells to young people. However, in the past year, the Right-wing has made significant inroads with young people, and A Higher Standard PAC is one of the many groups making conservatism cool again.
Over fifty years ago, the Republican political establishment was rocked when Barry Goldwater, an obscure senator from Arizona, won the party’s presidential nomination. Ever since the 1930’s and Roosevelt’s New Deal, the GOP had operated on the logic that they’d need to waffle to the left in order to have a glimmer of a chance of maintaining electoral viability. Goldwater’s uncompromising conservatism was a slap in the face to the party bosses who believed that they’d have to out-Democrat the Democrats in order to win elections.
Goldwater lost that election, and he lost big: his landslide defeat in the electoral college ended the careers of many Republicans. However, from the ashes of Rockefeller Republicanism rose a new generation of Rightists, unencumbered by ossified cuckservatives and possessing the testicular fortitude to take the fight to the Left. The flaming wreck of 1964 gave birth to the conservative renaissance of 1980.
Right now, American conservatism is in a similar state of flux, with cuckservatives forced on the retreat by the muscular nationalists emboldened by Donald Trump’s rise. The alt-Right has found its wings in appealing to da yoof, but we’re not the only ones who are mobilizing a new generation of conservative leaders. A Higher Standard PAC, an Illinois-based Republican political action committee, was founded with the purpose of getting Millennials involved in conservative, nationalist politics. Hopefully this time, we won’t need an electoral blowout—and Democratic supermajority control—to force the GOP to shape up.
I recently attended a rave put on by A Higher Standard in Chicago and had the opportunity to interview one of their senior staffers on modern politics, the Donald Trump campaign, and much more.
Matt Forney: What separates A Higher Standard from other attempts to reach out and get young people interested in conservative politics?
A Higher Standard: There have been other attempts to engage young people from conservatives. Such examples include the College Republicans, Young Americans for Freedom, Republican Party Animals, and so on. These organizations all serve valuable functions. In the case of the College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom, they exist to make the Republican presence known on campus and hold universities accountable on things such as freedom of opinion.
A Higher Standard is different because it seeks to actually make the connection between Millennials and the candidates themselves. Other organizations have limitations imposed on them because of their 501(c)(4) status. A Higher Standard, which is recognized by the FEC as a super PAC, has the ability to do certain things which cannot be done by other organizations. This includes meeting with the candidates directly and even financing elections. In this way, we allow conservative Millennials to influence the political process in a way that was not possible before.
At the same time, we hold attention-grabbing events such as “raves,” “parties” etc. to attract young people to our events. Not all people who show up may be conservative, but the idea is to throw events that young people will be attracted to, where they can make friends and have conversations that they wouldn’t have been able to have before.
We have also launched a podcast available on the iTunes Store called Millennial America with Joe Enders, which focuses on issues that all Millennials hear and care about (such as campus issues). We recently started a blog which is written entirely by Millennial authors. Our editor, also a Millennial, was recently flown out to Washington, D.C. by ABC News to take part in a town hall with Obama: he was there representing young Republicans. All these things are part of our outreach to speak to Millennials in a language that we know they’ll understand.
MF: Millennials are often stereotyped as being Left-wing, both socially and economically: the Bernie Sanders campaign was fueled by young people, and recent polling shows that Millennials are more favorable towards socialism than capitalism. What suggestions would you give to conservative/Republican leaders to help them get more young people supporting them and their causes?
AHS: It is no longer just a personal opinion, but now a widely accepted belief—even among sections of academia—that a social bias has been instituted on college campuses where people are afraid to identify as conservative on any issue. Some people may do this because they fear for their grades, but in the majority of cases, it is most likely that they fear social isolation from the rest of their peers. Since capitalism is identified with the Right-wing, people are afraid to identify with it lest they be accused of being Right-wing.
The first step towards combating this should be to break the social stigma. In order to do this, A Higher Standard will work with its campus friends to make the conservative presence known on campuses. This includes holding events and inviting speakers. Attempts to exclude speakers will be challenged with the assistance of A Higher Standard. The second is to appeal to Millennials using the mediums that they are used to. As mentioned before, A Higher Standard holds parties and raves because it is something young people can relate to.
Advice for Conservative leaders would be, number one, to never capitulate on the issues we hold dear. This includes free speech, control of our borders, and balancing the budget. Calling people with honest intentions “racist” or “offensive” may seem benign to these leaders, but they have a crippling and demoralizing effect on college-aged Republicans where these insults at thrown at them daily. Furthermore, conservative Millennials are actually quite far-sighted: they realize that their lives have a long way to go. That’s why they care about sealing our borders and cutting unnecessary spending, because they are the ones who will have to live with the consequences.
MF: Presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump is the first Republican candidate in years—possibly decades—who has significant appeal among young people. While not a traditional conservative in presentation or platform, Trump has staked his campaign on aggressively fighting illegal immigration (an issue that the GOP was prepared to concede to the Left) and undoing bad free trade agreements, both historically conservative positions. What do you think explains Trump’s appeal to Millennials compared to past Republican candidates?
AHS: Trump is actually doing a lot of what A Higher Standard is doing. He appeals to Millennials using mediums they are used to, like Twitter, for example. He speaks in a language they can understand, and—perhaps most importantly—he focuses on the issues they care about (for instance, illegal immigration and terrorism). Furthermore, his uncompromising attitude is appealing to Millennials, who are used to having to capitulate to the Left.
MF: As the Left is fond of crowing, America’s changing demographics have put the future of the Republican Party and conservatism in serious danger. What strategy (or strategies) would you suggest that conservatives adopt to remain relevant in the coming years, if any?
AHS: What many people don’t realize is that conservatism is actually at an all-time high right now. There are more Republican senators, House representatives, state representatives, state Senators, and governors than there have ever been in this country’s history.
As any demographer will tell you, demographics are extremely difficult—if not impossible—to predict because there are literally thousands of variables involved. In the 2014 midterm elections, the Democrats pinned all their hopes on the so-called “changing demographics,” only to be miserably defeated in what’s now referred to as “the bloodbath.” It is my personal belief that the Democratic Party will continue to lose young voters (yes, it is actually losing, not gaining young voters) in the future if it continues to focus on identity politics.
MF: Finally, how do you see this year’s presidential election unfolding? Do you believe Hillary will triumph over Trump (or vice versa), what will happen to the Republican majority in Congress, what shape do you think the GOP and conservatism will take in the coming years, and so on?
AHS: Nobody knows what will happen. Some polls show Hillary with a double-digit lead, while other polls—such as the Rasmussen poll released recently—show Trump with a seven point lead. A Higher Standard supports the Republican nominee unapologetically and will work, especially in the Midwestern states, to get out the college conservative vote come November.
MF: Thank you for your time.