Conservatives in particular have a penchant for viewing Millennials as overgrown adolescents: narcissistic, entitled, dimwitted, lazy and willing to expand their horizons only when it involves a trip to a cannabis store in Colorado. The generation prior — “X” — is noteworthy for overly individualistic, poor team players, self-reliant and cynical behaviors. If conservatives wish to break through to Millennials and Gen Xers, they should emphasize national security and foreign policy.
According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Millennials say that relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism will create hatred that leads to more terrorism. The only threat that Millennials have a greater fear of is global warming. Millennials are the least likely to support unilateral decisions in foreign policy and intervention and least likely to see Chinese power as a critical threat.
Whereas about half of Gen Xers believe that the United States is “the greatest country in the world,” only 32 percent of Millennials do. Finally, in 1994 the number of 18- to 29-year-olds who identified as Republicans was 47 percent, compared to 2014 with only 35 percent.
This is all quite dire for conservatism and the Republican Party — and dire for the 2016 election.
Millennials are sometimes called the generation that “makes no sense” owing to their contradictory views. Seven in 10 Millennials support government guarantees for housing, health insurance and income, yet only 32 percent reported that they preferred a government-managed economy, compared to 64 percent who supported a free market over a state-managed market. Six in 10 want to live in a society that distributes wealth based on achievement, even at the expense of unequal outcomes. Sixty-four percent of Millennials have a positive view of competition and profit. More than half reported that they would like to start their own businesses. Finally, while only 16 percent of those surveyed could accurately define socialism, 42 percent reported preferring socialism to capitalism.
However, conservatives should remember who has been “educating” them. Recently, liberal New York Times columnist Nick Kristoff, added to the old chorus that has “outed” education, especially higher education, for being extremely left-wing. The hate mail that Mr. Kristoff has received is the exact proof of the liberal intolerance that has indoctrinated almost three generations of young Americans.
Since Millennials and even some Gen Xers are all over the map on domestic and social policies, they need to be confronted on culture and national security. It is telling that religion may be the first key to unlocking this potential: 86 percent of Millennials state they believe in God, as do 79 percent of Gen Xers. While 45 percent of the country believes it is appropriate to engage in nation-building, 53 percent of Millennials and 46 percent of Gen Xers do, with over 60 percent of Millennials supporting “liberal intervention scenarios.” There is no more conservative opinion on foreign policy than that expressed by presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, who combined the muscularity of American hard power with the north star of American values. In contrast, Barack Obama has represented pseudo-realist declinism, that neither embraces power nor idealism. In general, the young love America: 70 percent of Millennials and 86 percent of Gen Xers still call themselves very patriotic (though older generations are at 90 percent plus). Millennials are the most pro-free trade with a whopping 63 percent calling it a “good thing.” If there is an antidote to their misunderstood love affair with socialism (and Bernie Sanders), this is it.
Conservatives must understand that culture drives politics. Either conservatives seize the initiative, or they are reactive, cynical and dead.
The best conduit for conversion is national security. Millennials and Gen Xers can be told the truth to form a permanent block not only for conservatism, but for the Republican Party. The call should go out about how wrong leftists are about national security.
They are wrong on defense. It always costs more in lives, both military and civilian, to short cut defense and wait for a crisis to build.
They are wrong on relegating terrorism to a crime. It was the conservatives who pursued it as a war and attempted to forestall al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Syrian civil war.
They are wrong on geopolitics and trade.
They are wrong on diplomacy. Diplomacy is about advancing the interests of the American people.
They are wrong on values, and conservatives need to reverse relativistic indoctrination. It was liberal appeasement that created millions of dead in the genocides of the Nazis and the communists. It was liberal inaction that brought about the death of almost one-fourth of the population in Cambodia. And it is liberal cowardice that accounts for 470,000 deaths in Syria.
If conservatives want to attract the young, they must end the mindless debate among the international-relations realists, the liberals, the establishment, the grass roots and the tea party.
The attempt by the left to take over the political culture of the youth started in the late 1960s. It then moved on to the Gen Xers, where the first ideas in higher education about micro-aggressions, safe spaces and free speech zones had their genesis. Conservatives ceded the ground as they did in much of culture, arts and letters. In doing so, they paid the price 10 times over. They now have an unusual opportunity to reverse it, but only with an aggressive attack that uses both the truth of our predicament and the heroic history of the American tradition.
• Lamont Colucci, a former diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, is an associate professor of politics and government at Ripon College.