Danielle McLaughlin: One Millennial Republican's Fight to Save His Grand Old Party
It was, quite literally, a hot August night. I joined a large group of Republicans and media types in the back room of a trendy Chelsea bar. We were gathered to celebrate the launch of GOP GPS – a new book by a young Republican, Evan Siegfried, full of advice for his party in the age of the millennial voter.
Specifically, Siegfried is urging his party to adopt a more LGBT-friendly platform, pay attention to the crushing expense of higher education, reform social security so that millennials will have access to the retirement fund they are currently paying into, and increase access to high-quality education for all, but especially the poorest Americans.
Siegfried, a former staffer on Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign, a political consultant and TV talking head (which is, incidentally, how we met), says bluntly, "it's evolve or die".
Siegfried is referring to the Republican cause in America in the age of Trump. We talked the day before the book launch: "Baby boomers are currently the largest voting bloc supporting the Republican Party. But they are literally going away. And we haven't made meaningful inroads with millennials, the largest generation in the United States."
I asked him what he meant by inroads. "Just one in five millennials identify with the Republican Party. We have a brand problem".
And it's true. The Republican Party, or as it's commonly referred to, the Grand Old Party or GOP has, for many years, been an anti-science, anti-climate change, anti-womens' choice, anti-intellectual voice in America. A party whose messages, according to Siegfried, have been controlled by members with the most-extreme views.
And there simply aren't enough Republican extremists to elect a Republican president.
In 2012, after Mitt Romney lost to the incumbent President Obama, the GOP undertook a thorough autopsy, entitled the Growth and Opportunity Project. It's goal? To expand outreach to women, youth, and non-white voters. To become the party of the working people, not the chief executives.
Enter Donald Trump. The candidate with four bankruptcies. Who stiffed small contractors on bills for his enormous estates. Who is channelling a nativist, populist campaign based on taking the country back. Who called Mexican immigrants rapists and who said women who get an abortion should be punished.
What happened to the Growth and Opportunity Project? "It got thrown in the trash and forgotten" says Siegfried.
Now, with about 70 days until the presidential election, Trump is trying to rebrand his campaign as more inclusive. Does he have enough time? We'll know soon enough.
The rise of Trump has made Siegfried's advice more urgent than ever before. Because Trump is the antithesis of what the Growth and Opportunity Project stands for, and because a party already unpopular with anyone not white or male will be viewed for many elections to come through the lens of Trump. "In every race, the Republican candidate will have to expend energy on differentiating themselves from Trump. It's like having to run a marathon just to get to the start of your marathon".
It probably goes without saying that Siegfried is firmly anti-Trump. What has that been like for him? "It's certainly been interesting. I have seen the best and worst of politics. Some people have applauded me for embracing principles over party. And, there are the death threats".
Despite the attacks, Siegfried believes in his message. He joked that writing the book was in part to get his political views – unpopular in his generation and in strongly Democratic New York City – out there in public "so that on dates I can argue about what to order for dinner, instead of education policy".
- Sunday Star Times