Young Republicans Weigh In On Their Party's Future

Jul 21, 2016
Originally published on July 21, 2016 5:27 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Another rarity this week in Cleveland is the young Republican. Teens and 20-somethings skew Democratic, but there are some young people here, and we wondered what they have to say. For example, Ryder Haag, a delegate from Nevada who is just starting college at the University of Nevada in Reno. Ryder is a poised young man of 19 who barely looks his age - something he's asked about frequently.

RYDER HAAG: Actually, I've probably gotten easily over a hundred people asking me when I was walking through. Even today, I've had - I can count to about 15 people asking me how old I've been. The fact of the matter is that it doesn't matter how old or how young I am. It's that I wanted to be able to represent the people of Nevada, and here I am.

SIEGEL: Ryder Haag started out as a Marco Rubio supporter, but the district he represents went for Donald Trump, so now he does, too. He concedes that on some issues - same-sex marriage, for one - the GOP is out of touch with his age group.

HAAG: Democrats do appeal more to younger voters. However, there are plenty of Republicans that are teenagers. But the fact of the matter is in this type of election, I think, a lot of them are rather quiet and really not voicing that they are Republicans or that they do support Donald Trump.

SIEGEL: Well, what's it like being a delegate at your age when you can't go out for a beer with the rest of the delegation.

HAAG: (Laughter) That - I mean, the Republican National Convention is the equivalent of the Super Bowl for Republicans. It's an amazing opportunity. There's plenty of beer and other alcoholic beverages. I'm not old enough to partake, however. However, though, there are millenials coming together on Facebook. Actually, we're all texting each other. We're all meeting up for social events and gatherings. And so even though we're not old enough to be able to party or go out with the other adults, the fact of the matter is that we're all together.

SIEGEL: One such gathering was thrown by the Young Republican National Federation to celebrate its 80th birthday. Among those attending were Lauren Cooley, who's 24, Mike Goldman, who's 30. Kayla Atchison is 25, and Hilary Hagenbuch is 29.

LAUREN COOLEY: I joined the Republican Party soon as I turned 18. I knew I wanted to be a Republican.

MIKE GOLDMAN: I've been a Republican for a long time and for a number of reasons. But primarily I believe in limited government, free enterprise and a strong America.

KAYLA ATCHISON: To life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

HILARY HAGENBUCH: I remember walking into my dad's office after somewhat of a political day when I was a young girl at my school. And I asked him, Daddy, how do you know if you're a Republican or a Democrat? And he sat down with me and asked me, how do you feel about this? Do you think this is fair? And it was very unbiased of him. And I think it was also a very proud moment for him because he smiled and said, well, you're a Republican.

COOLEY: You know what? I think the No. 1 issue that I'm concerned with is our national debt and the spending.

ATCHISON: The most important issue is the Supreme Court.

HAGENBUCH: I would say national security is number one.

ATCHISON: Marriage is between a man and a woman, but I will also say that the government shouldn't have a stake in marriage.

COOLEY: I don't think the government should even be involved.

GOLDMAN: As long as it's between consenting adults, it doesn't bother me that much - much less than the reduction in our checks and balances or our declining position in the world.

SIEGEL: Of this group, Mike opposes Donald Trump. Lauren and Hilary are on board with the nominee and so is Kayla, although reluctantly.

ATCHISON: I've had my reservations about Donald Trump. He was not my first choice - not whatsoever.

COOLEY: No, he was definitely not who I voted for in the primary. I was a Rand Paul fan. I liked Ted Cruz.

GOLDMAN: Frankly, I think I would have been perfectly happy with any of the Republican nominees from 1950 to - till 2012.

HAGENBUCH: Young Republicans are the next generation of this party.

ATCHISON: I think they've done a lot to reach out, but it's one thing for an older generation to try to reach out to a younger person.

COOLEY: It's not going to be where a party official gets on Snapchat or something like that, and then all the sudden, you decide to become a Republican.

GOLDMAN: I just like to say the cavalry is not coming to save us. We are the cavalry. It's up to us to get involved. It's up to us to make sure the party represents our viewpoints, and it's up to us to win the future.

SIEGEL: That's Mike Goldman. Of that group, he is the only delegate. He's from Texas. Hilary Hagenbuch is a California alternate. At 30 and 29, they are middle-aged compared to Kathleen Moore. She is an Auburn student and an Alabama delegate at age 18. Her father's a delegate, too.

I asked Kathleen about the sights and sounds of the convention. At the plaza outside the arena where we met, the sound system had been blaring The Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women," a song that came out over 40 years ago. I asked Kathleen if the culture of this convention was connecting to her in any way.

KATHLEEN MOORE: It is, and I think it's funny. Dad and I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame today, actually. And Dad pointed out that students my age are starting to buy vinyl records again, and we're starting to buy Rolling Stones t-shirts. And I think we're trying to kick it back, and I kind of like it. I think it's awesome.

SIEGEL: So you're saying that when the Trump campaign chose all that Rolling Stones music 'cause it's the music from Donald Trump's salad days...

MOORE: Right.

SIEGEL: ...He's actually connecting with people your age at this point.

MOORE: Yeah, I like The Rolling Stones. I like their music. I'm all for it.

SIEGEL: Like her father, Kathleen is a Trump delegate. It's not a big youth scene, but there is some life under 30 - even some life under 20 - at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HONKY TONK WOMEN")

THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) It's the honky tonk women...

SIEGEL: And we want to thank member station WCPN ideastream for hosting us at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.