Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) (R-Wash.) hit the nail on the head on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday: “I don’t think it’s about the Republican Party needing to become more moderate. I really believe it’s the Republican Party becoming more modern. And whether it’s Hispanics, whether it’s women, whether it’s young people, the Republican Party has to make it a priority to take our values, take our vision to every corner of this country, to every demographic group.”
She is 100% correct. Every time I suggest better, smarter GOP outreach to young people, Hispanics, African Americans, and women, many in the GOP old guard wave their pointer fingers at me and insist that I am advocating pandering, that I am allying myself with the Left’s divide and conquer tactics.
Let me correct them in writing, as I have done in speech: Outreach is not pandering. They are completely different things. I am not talking about dividing the country up into special interest groups, pandering to voting blocs with speeches telling them what they want to hear in order to win votes. What I am talking about is taking the conservative message, a message that stands to benefit everyone in society, to places the GOP often ignores–local African-American and Hispanic church groups, feminist centers, and left-leaning college campuses, to name a few.
Will your message face resistance? Yes, and that’s okay. It gives you a chance to correct false, media-driven stereotypes about conservatives and conservatism. Will you convert the majority in one afternoon? Of course not; these stereotypes have been inculcated over decades. Opening hearts and minds is a process, not a lunch appointment. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to work. Andrew Breitbart understood that better than anyone.
Talk to young people about freedom. Remind them that their ability to control so many aspects of their lives is on the line. Remind women what many founding feminists fought so hard for–independence and opportunity–and talk about why the Left is a phony ally of both of those things. Talk about big-government policies, and why they are keeping poverty up–not down–in all communities, including Hispanic and African-American ones.
This is not pandering. This is a message of unity, a message that articulates how conservatism drives success among African Americans, whites, young people, women, men–all of us–but that message won’t be maximized until you step away from preach-to-the-choir venues and engage those who aren’t part of the GOP base. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s very hard work. But isn’t it worth it?
Let me add a few things. First, the quality of messengers matters. Charismatic, energetic messengers of conservatism are a must. We live in a world where people often listen to those they can relate to in some way. That’s a fact, so don’t ignore it. Send that pro-life conservative female feminist to a left-leaning women’s group. Send young conservatives to left-leaning college campuses and let the youth debate it out together. That’s not pandering; it’s smart outreach.
When it comes to the youth, I must make a few additional points. I have worked with young people ages three to twenty-five as a teacher, coach, Dean, tutor, and Adviser. Young people pay attention substantially more when they are entertained. The best messengers of the conservative cause to our youth are funny, entertaining, and enthusiastic individuals. We have those people in our movement, and they are the key. You want young people to hear what we’re saying? Send Greg Gutfeld to talk to them; he will make them laugh and they will find themselves questioning every stereotype about conservatives they spent years believing. Invite Steven Crowder to a campus coffeehouse to talk with students about his vision and why it matters. I know I can count on him to bring a video montage and/or costume that will get them laughing, thinking, and listening.
I remember walking into a forum geared toward our youth when I first got involved in politics two years ago. I surveyed the room upon entering and saw a high stage with a podium and dais featuring sharply-dressed speakers, row after row of neatly-lined, stiff chairs, and students dressed in their best attire. I immediately wanted to redo it all…
Let those kids wear their most comfortable, casual attire, clothes that remind them what freedom of choice means to them. Get rid of that elevated stage and podium, and with it the detachment and classroom associations; this is a discussion, not Economics 101. Get those speakers out of their stuffy gear and let them wear their favorite casual clothes too, while sitting among students, not above them. Let’s add some snacks and a lot of video accompaniment. Trade in stiff, analytical Power Points for man-on-the-street segments, character skits, and videos of great conservative leaders put to–that’s right–music.
I remember looking across that stuffy room and thinking, “This isn’t somewhere I would want to think, discover, and debate; it’s a lecture hall.” Changing the hearts and minds of our youth will not happen in lecture halls. It will happen in places where they want to be, dressed in their own unique clothes, with people who talk with them–not at them.
So yes, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) is right: The Republican Party needs to get more modern. I’m not sure if she would agree with everything I have written here, but it’s a vision I see and believe can be realized.
I firmly believe that the future of the country depends upon it.
Follow Jedediah on Twitter @JedediahBila
Headline image: Chris Sheppard