LENNOX: GOP must embrace a new generation of leaders

Young people are future of the party

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In the almost two months since the re-election of President Obama, there has been a lot of opining over how the Republican Party can come out of the political wilderness and move beyond its majorities in state legislatures, governor’s mansions and the lower house of Congress.

One of the most popular talking points has been that the GOP has problems with women and racial and ethnic minorities. While it’s true that the party must do a better job of reflecting the changing face of America, the real demographic problem is much more significant.

Republicans will struggle to form national majorities unless they realize that young people must not only be targeted aggressively but also be incorporated fully into the party apparatus.

The facts are simple: The “greatest generation” is moving closer to extinction with every passing day, while the graying baby boomers — a demographic Mr. Obama lost to John McCain and Mitt Romney — also are beginning to give way in terms of political influence.

This changing reality requires the Republican Party to reposition itself.

To be clear, this is not a call for abandonment of core principles. Rather, it is a call for the realization that the party needs new leaders to deliver its traditional message of equal opportunity for all.

The notion that young people will somehow adhere to an adage and evolve from moderate to liberal-leaning Obama Democrats to center-right Republicans over time is a delusion, especially when the GOP hasn’t seriously engaged those younger than 40 since the 2004 re-election campaign of President George W. Bush.

As a 20-year-old working for Mr. Bush’s campaign — my first political job — I usually was the youngest Republican in the room. Eight years later, I remain the youngest face in the crowd at many conservative and party political events — at least those outside the Beltway.

Going forward, the party is becoming unsustainable unless it does a better job of resembling the America of the second decade of the 21st century.

The College Republicans do a commendable job of educating college students in how to advocate conservative beliefs, as do numerous conservative nonpartisan groups led by the Virginia-based Leadership Institute. However, the party needs something more than ideological warriors and tributes to Ronald Reagan, the latter of which are largely irrelevant now, when the current college freshman was born well after one of the greatest presidents in our country’s history left the White House.

Republicans do not need more “old men,” who predictably fall into the identity political gamesmanship that Democrats love to play. (The uproar surrounding a ban on discussing women’s anatomy in relation to an abortion bill on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives in June 2012 is a chief exhibit.)

The thousands of young men and women involved in high school, college and young professional groups should be elevated beyond token leadership positions and coalition front groups. These tend to amount to little more than a seat at the back of the party’s bus.

County, state and national GOP committees need to re-evaluate the way candidates are nominated to ensure the candidates who emerge are not only electable but also truly representative of their community or constituency.

If the GOP establishment is unwilling to do this, the party’s next generation must come together and take advantage of the rather open process to take over the Republican high command.

With thousands of electoral campaigns — from Congress and state legislatures to county mine-inspection posts, school boards and town parks commissions — there is no excuse for not embracing a new generation of leaders, especially when many of the races are uncontested.

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