Young Republicans Aim To Attract Newcomers To The Party
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The Republican Party has a young person problem. Its support among younger voters appears to be growing worse, rather than better under President Trump. And now young Republican activists around Atlanta are trying to reverse that. Here's NPR's Asma Khalid.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Chelsea Magee became a Republican when she got her first job as a teenager and saw how much money was being taken out for taxes. We meet at a diner in Alpharetta, Ga., where a group of young suburban Republicans are having their monthly meeting. Magee is 33 now and represents a generational shift on issues like same-sex marriage.
CHELSEA MAGEE: Marriage, for me, is a relationship between me and my husband and God. So if you decide that you want to marry someone of the same sex, then, I mean, that's between you and your spouse and God. That's not something for me to decide. And I don't think the government should have a say so in it.
KHALID: Research consistently shows on LGBT rights, climate change and immigration, there is a generational gap within the Republican Party. And Jake Evans gets that. He's the president of the Atlanta Young Republicans. We meet at his law office in Buckhead. It's an upscale district of Atlanta. In many ways, Evans represents the more moderate highly educated wing of the party. He's a dapper guy in a tan suit with a pocket square. He tells me with pride that he's got the largest young Republican group in the country, about 400 members.
JAKE EVANS: We're trying to become an inclusive organization, make it cool to be a young Republican because in the city of Atlanta, it's cool to be a Democrat.
KHALID: And that resonates with Sunita Theiss, an Indian-American who grew up in Atlanta.
SUNITA THEISS: People assumed because I was a minority and a woman and the product of immigrants and because I'm vocal about issues of race that I was liberal.
KHALID: Theiss has seen herself as a conservative for years, but she didn't really participate in party politics.
THEISS: I was for a long time afraid of getting involved.
KHALID: Theiss did not vote for the president, but on the heels of the 2016 election, she says she outed herself and joined the board of the Atlanta Young Republicans.
THEISS: I got more involved because I guess I felt like things weren't representing what I thought and what I had to say.
KHALID: The Atlanta Young Republicans are more diverse than your average GOP organization, and sometimes they experiment with bipartisanship, like when they hosted a debate watch party with young Democrats during the 2016 election. They're trying to create a distinct brand within the GOP. A lot of traditional Republican meetings begin with a display of patriotism or religion. But Nick Carlson, a young Republican here, says they usually start with music.
NICK CARLSON: We don't start with the Pledge of Allegiance or with a prayer or anything like that. It usually is just turn the music off, thanking them for coming.
KHALID: Even as this group tries to be inclusive, the Pew Research Center found last year that about a quarter of Young Republicans nationwide defected from the party after Trump's election.
EVANS: He's polarized a lot of people. I just don't think he can deny that.
KHALID: That's Jake Evans again.
EVANS: My biggest qualm with Trump was the way that he handled Charlottesville. You know, he needed to be unambiguous about that. It's inappropriate, period.
KHALID: He's talking about when President Trump blamed both sides after deadly violence erupted last August between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Virginia. Evans says the way the president sometimes talks about race can make it hard to be a Republican. But still, like a lot of young Republicans, he voted for Trump. Some say the president is doing better than they expected. A few were enthusiastically behind him from the moment he announced his candidacy, and that is not the norm for their generation.
DAVE MARCUS: To some extent, people like Trump really play into this notion that conservatives are now the - I don't know if cool is the right word but at least now the counterculture.
KHALID: Dave Marcus is a conservative writer with The Federalist.
MARCUS: Progressives have a disproportionate amount of cultural power. So young conservatives and young Republicans really are feeling like they are the ones who are running against the cultural currents.
KHALID: Even though the young Republican activists we spoke to in Georgia are trying to be inclusive, they still embrace going against the grain. Asma Khalid, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF FROM MONUMENT TO MASSES' "SIXTH TRUMPET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.