Bryan Osorio, mayor of Delano, California, who just earned his Masters degree this month, will be the youngest member of Congress if beats Republican David Valadao in the Central Valley next year. This morning, he told me that "Across California and this country, there is a new generation of leadership that is ready to advocate in Congress for working-class families, without corporate ties and with a bold vision. Voters everywhere are looking for a breath of fresh air in Washington, but we often see the same career politicians on the ballot. This sustains the lack of diversity and lack of change in Congress. By supporting young, diverse, and people-powered candidates, Congress will see a shift towards a real representation and real change for families."
Charlotte Alter wrote a book, The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America about elected millennial leaders of both political parties looking towards changing America. This morning she penned an essay for the NY Times, How Young GOP Leaders Sold Out Their Generation, showing how the Republican Party has given up on young voters to double down on their base: poorly-educated, somewhat bigoted, old white people, mostly in rural parts of the country.
Alter had included 3 congressional Republicans in her book-- Ryan Costello (PA), Carlos Curbelo (FL) and Elise Stefanik (NY)-- who she wrote "wanted to help build a modern, millennial Republican Party... They were out to create a new GOP for the 21st century." Since then Costello retired, disgusted with Trump and Trumpism, Curbelo was defeated and quit the GOP and now regularly speaks out about Republican excesses, and Stefanik took a secret pill to add 30 years to her age, along with a morbid devotion to full-fledged reactionary Trumpism.
Alter wrote that "'Whether it’s environmental policy or immigration policy, the younger generations are more open to the America of tomorrow,' Curbelo told me in 2018, when I interviewed him for a book about millennial political leaders. 'We certainly have a lot of work to do on all those issues. The good news is that we have a lot of younger Republicans in Congress, and they all get it.' It was clear, even then, that millennial voters across the political spectrum cared more about issues like racial diversity, LGBTQ rights and college affordability than their parents did. Polls showed that young Republicans were more moderate on some issues than older ones, particularly on questions of immigration and climate change. So Curbelo and Stefanik teamed up to fight for immigration reform, particularly for protections for young immigrants. They refused to join the right wing’s fight against marriage equality, likely recognizing that most young people embraced LGBTQ rights. And Stefanik introduced a 2017 resolution, along with Costello andCurbelo, calling for American innovation to fight climate change-- one of the strongest climate change statements to come out of the Republican Party in years. (Some octogenarian Republicans remained skeptical of climate science; just two years earlier, Senator Jim Inhofe brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to prove that global warming was a hoax.) But their visions of the 'America of tomorrow' hadn’t foreseen Donald Trump."
Stefanik bought in to Trumpism, hook line and sinker. Alter noted that she she interviewed her in 2018 and 2019 for the book, "she seemed to understand that the Republican Party was in trouble with young people. 'The GOP needs to prioritize reaching out to younger voters,' she told me. 'Millennials bring a sense of bipartisanship and really rolling up our sleeves and getting things done.' Now she has tied her political career to the man who has perhaps done more than any other Republican to drive young voters away from her party, resulting in surging youth turnout for Democrats in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Stefanik’s rise-- and her colleagues’ fall-- is not just a parable of Trumpism. It’s a broader omen for a party struggling to reach a 21st-century electorate. She ascended by embracing a movement that is all about relitigating the past rather than welcoming the future. Now she and other new Trump loyalists in Congress are caught between their party and their generations, stuck between their immediate ambitions and the long-term trends. The GOP has embraced a political form of youth sacrifice, immolating their hopes for young supporters in order to appease an ancient, vengeful power... Trump didn’t just devastate the GOP’s fledgling class of up-and-coming talent. He also rattled the already precarious loyalty of young Republican voters; from December 2015 to March 2017, nearly half of Republicans under 30 left the party, according to Pew. Many returned, but by 2017, nearly a quarter of young conservatives had defected. Millennials and Gen Zers were already skeptical of the GOP, but Mr. Trump alienated them even further. His campaign of white grievance held little appeal for the two most racially diverse generations in U.S. history. Youth voter turnout was higher in 2020 than it was in 2016, with 60 percent of young voters picking Joe Biden. His youth vote margin was sufficient to put him over the top in key states like Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia, according to an analysis by Tufts University, and young voters of color were particularly energized."
[M]ost voters form their political attitudes when they’re young and tend to stay roughly consistent as they age. And anti-Trumpism may now be one of the most durable political values of Americans under 50. By the end of Trump’s presidency, after the Jan. 6 insurrection, almost three-quarters of Americans under 50 said they strongly disapproved of him. Even young Republicans were cooling off: According to a new CBS poll, Republicans under 30 were more than twice as likely as those older than 44 to believe that Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election and roughly twice as likely to believe the party shouldn’t follow Trump’s lead on race issues.
“Younger conservatives aren’t focused on the election being stolen or the cultural sound bites,” said Benji Backer, the president of the American Conservation Coalition, a conservative climate action group. He told me that Ms. Stefanik had “distanced herself from the youth conservation movement,” after years of being one of the most climate-conscious Republicans in Congress. Now, he said, “peddling misinformation about the election and Jan. 6 has made it harder for young people to look up to her as a future voice in the party.”
The new G.O.P. of 2015 has been replaced by a newer G.O.P.: a cohort of young Republican leaders who seem far more concerned with owning the libs on social media than with proposing conservative solutions to issues that matter to young people.
This cohort includes millennials like Representative Matt Gaetz and Representative Lauren Boebert as well as Representative Madison Cawthorn, a Gen Z-er, all Trump loyalists who voted to overturn the electoral vote result. Mr. Gaetz introduced a bill to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency, Ms. Boebert introduced a bill to designate antifa as a “domestic terrorist organization,” and Mr. Cawthorn has so embraced the Trumpian ethos of rhetoric as leadership that he once said he “built my staff around comms rather than legislation.”
It’s clear that this version of the Republican Party is firmly the party of old people: Mr. Gaetz and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene kicked off their America First tour with a Trumpian rally at the Villages, Florida’s famous retirement community.
Once, the young leaders of the G.O.P. were trying to present next-generation solutions to next-generation problems. Now they’ve traded their claim on the future for an obsession with the past.
There are currently a dozen members of Congress under 35 and 5 of them are Republicans. The youngest is a poorly educated Hitler-loving neo-Nazi from western North Carolina, Madison Cawthorn, just 25 years old. He's part of the Gang-Greene and one of Congress' most reactionary members. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), a loud-mouth high school dropout, is 34, also a member of the Gang-Greene, and even further right than Cawthorn. Two others are standard right-wing Republicans, Kat Cammack (FL), 33 years old and Jake LaTurner (KS), 32 years old. One, Peter Meijer (MI), age 33, is a mainstream conservative. The 7 young Democrats include 3 New York progressives-- AOC, Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones-- 3 corporate shills, Josh Harder (New Dem-CA), Jake Auchincloss (MA) and Sara Jacobs (New Dem-CA) and 1 who can't make up her mind, Lauren Underwood (IL).
Alexandra Hunt is running for Congress in Philadelphia against a Machine-backed, do-nothing career politician, 67 year old corporate Dem incumbent Dwight Evans. This morning she told me that "More and more young people are running for office because we have to. We have grown up with multiple crises looming over our shoulder from mass incarceration to compounding student debt to the climate emergency to the lack of economic opportunity through good paying jobs to increasing violence within our general narrative. The United States hasn't been governing for our future generations; we've been governing for corporations and the wealthy while neglecting to pass on a viable world to younger folks. Millennials hold only 4.8% of the wealth whereas GenX had 9% of the wealth at our age and Boomers had 21%. We've been destroying our future and making it harder for young generations to obtain houses, have children, or dig ourselves out of poverty."
I was at a protest when an older woman walked up to me. She wanted to know what we were protesting and I shared with her that we were protesting homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "my generation really failed you (young people). We promised you better but didn't deliver. I'm so sorry." I was on the phone with a donor and she got angry with me for running as a Democrat. I defended my decision and stated, "I'm running to win and I don't really have another option if I want to win." She caught her breath and said, "I have to remember that. I have to remember that my generation hasn't given you better options and that young people are doing the best they can with what they're being handed."
Young people are righteously indignant over the state of this country. Age minimums were placed on voting and on candidates running for office with the nuance that it takes experience to legislate. Young people are living the experience of legislators catering to their corporate donors and now we're running to break the cycle. We are surviving systems that are neglecting, abusing, and depriving us of many of our human rights. We want every person to live and die with dignity. That is not the state of the world we live in today, but that is the future we are fighting for.
I recently met with Philadelphia Black Student Alliance-- a group of high schoolers and teachers from all over Philly organizing for a better public school system. I had explained to national youth groups wanting to endorse our campaign that I needed to speak with the youth from my own district and that they are my priority. When I shared this with the group, they responded that they weren't used to speaking with candidates or public officials. They shared they weren't used to being anyone's priority.
That is the cycle I am running to break. It roars the question of the office holders who have come before me-- who exactly have you been fighting for?