The Republican Party has thrived with boomers for decades now, but in the Trump era, when they are settling into retirement, the nature of their designs for the country seem particularly odious.
In 2012, the disproportionately old, white Republican electorate banded together in an attempt to take away young and poor people’s health insurance and devolve Medicare, the public health care guarantee for retirees, to private insurance companies — but only for younger generations. One of Romney’s central promises was to leave the safety net completely untouched for the old and near-old. This time around, they’re essentially attempting the same thing — Republicans in Congress support Trump largely based on the assumption that he will sign bills to cut taxes and cut safety net programs — but with white nationalist fascism as the real lasting legacy.
In Florida, at least, Boomers want to leave Trump to millennials as a parting gift before they shuffle out of God’s waiting room into eternity. And if they push Trump over the top in Florida, his path to the presidency will suddenly become very wide. If you’re a liberal who spent the past week sleeping fitfully at the thought Trump might eke out a victory in November, go to Florida and thank your nearest Baby Boomer. Apparently they’re everywhere down there.
I don’t really see how this debate can be settled in any definitive way, because if Trump wins, there will be a whole lot of blame to go around. If millennials do end up helping cost Clinton the election, surely it’ll be reasonable to argue all of these things simultaneously:
1) First and foremost, Clinton and Democrats deserve the blame for failing to give millennials a compelling enough reason to vote for her; but…
(2) despite this, millennials who do vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein will indeed have wasted their votes, with potentially disastrous consequences for themselves and everyone else; and yet, even if that is so…
(3) this won’t necessarily make millennials any more responsible for the outcome than anyone else, and we’ll all have hell to pay for it.
But I do want to make a separate point, which is that the struggle to get it right with millennials could end up being a much bigger long-term story than the one reflected in the current arguments over whether they are or aren’t obliged to support Clinton in this election.
As Democratic strategists such as Simon Rosenberg have long argued, there is a major opportunity here to try to lock in millennial support for the Democratic Party for many years to come. And we are talking about a lot of voters. As Pew Research recently reported, millennials — defined here as adults aged 18-35 in 2016 — have now caught up to the Baby Boomers as a share of the American electorate:
As Pew commented: “it is only a matter of time before Millennials are the largest generation in the electorate.” Because millennials don’t turn out at the same rates as other voter groups, it might take a while before they are the largest bloc of active voters, but you see where this is generally going.
Earlier this year, as the conventions were displaying two sharply different visions of the country’s future, Democrats were talking about the possibility that the GOP’s nomination of Trump might create a historic opportunity to persuade younger voters that the Democratic Party is the one firmly aligned with diversifying America. Meanwhile, it might also cement their views of the GOP as unremittingly hostile to cultural, social, and demographic change. Some Never Trump Republicans watched the conventions and agreed that for this reason, the nomination of Trump might alienate a new generation of voters, with catastrophic consequences. As you’ll recall, leading GOP strategists also reacted to the 2012 outcome by resolving to modernize the party to make it appear less hidebound and trapped in the past to young voters — unaware, of course, that Trump was already feverishly plotting to seize control of it.
Now it’s looking as if this analysis was right — at least in predicting that Trump would indeed alienate these voters. Beyond Trump, it’s possible that many are already hardened against the GOP after having come of age during the debacles of the George W. Bush presidency and after having witnessed the party’s failure to evolve on gay rights and other cultural issues well into the 21st Century. But with Clinton struggling among them, and with larger than expected percentages considering minor party candidates, we can no longer be sure what is going to happen with these voters over the long term. This seems particularly true of the younger millennials, who loved Barack Obama but aren’t feeling it for Clinton.
My strong sense is that millennials will likely come home to Clinton in substantial numbers, if not quite at the levels Democrats might hope for. But the broader point is that, even if Clinton does win, the political loyalties of these voters — and efforts to engage them, particularly in midterm elections — will be topics of concern that long outlast this election, given the long term stakes. The party leadership during the Clinton presidency, should she win, will undoubtedly have to make ministering to these voters a major aspect of the party’s agenda, including innovations in communicating with younger voters in the digital age. I hope to have more in a future post on what the Clinton campaign and Democrats are thinking and doing on this score. But I just wanted to plant a marker on the idea that this could be a big, consequential story going forward.