Last week, over 100 young libertarians attended a karaoke night at O’Sullivan’s Irish Pub, in Arlington, Virginia, outside Washington DC. A weekly ritual for many of the attendees, the crowd on this particular night had a particular mission — to raise at least $2,000 for Republican Congressman Justin Amash. A reasonable goal, for which an appreciative Amash was glad to make an appearance and speak to a room full of admirers.
They raised $6,600. Not bad for a mostly 20-something crowd — Capitol Hill staffers, non-profit employees, activists and others — who weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination.
After hearing of the event’s success, other congressional offices began contacting organizer and libertarian activist Matthew Hurtt, to find out how they could do the same thing. They too, wanted this kind of youth support and excitement.
Hurtt’s answer? Be more like Justin Amash.
Amash, whose profile has risen considerably as a staunch champion of small government and civil liberties, captures the attention of young people in a way most other Republicans simply can’t. Billed as a “Liberty Karaoke Fundraiser,” the event was not created to benefit the GOP per se, but to help a particular Republican the attendees were passionate about.
Outside of the retired Ron Paul and his son Senator Rand Paul, no Republican excites young libertarians, conservatives, independents — and even some liberals — more than Justin Amash. A Mother Jones profile last month described Amash as “a driving force in the fight for the future of the libertarian movement,” also noting “Amash believes he’s at the vanguard of a generational shift in how Congress approaches a whole range of political issues.”
The relative success of the Amash karaoke fundraiser is but a microcosm of that shift. That the organizers understand they cannot replicate the same success for just any Republican — nor do they care to — is also indicative of that shift.
Amash is best known today for taking up the mantle of civil liberties in the House, mirroring Sen. Rand Paul’s efforts in the Senate. The Amash-Conyers bill to rein in NSA surveillance in the House last summer lost by only 12 votes, but the similar, Amash co-sponsored USA Freedom Act is expected to have a much better chance in 2014.
Before Republicans like Amash began arriving in Washington via the Tea Party, much of the GOP could be fairly described as anti-civil liberties — the party of the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, and indefinite detention. A relic of the Bush-Cheney era, Karl Rove bashed Amash’s zeal for protecting civil liberties last summer by calling him “the most liberal Republican.”
It should be noted that Rove’s idea of the most liberal Republican is one of only three Republicans with a 100 percent rating from Club for Growth, receives a perfect score from FreedomWorks and equally high marks from Americans for Prosperity.
Amash’s brand of libertarian Republicanism is markedly different from what the GOP has offered over the prior decade. If Rove helped navigate a Republican presidency best known for drastically expanding government, starting unnecessary wars, and shredding the Bill of Rights, libertarian Republicans like Amash stand as polar opposites. While Rove chastises Amash and Republicans like him for being too libertarian, Amash and his young admirers view the Rovian GOP as being too authoritarian.
Rove calls Amash a liberal Republican for the same reasons 100 young people were eager to cough up $6,600 for him in a bar. These same young libertarians and conservatives wouldn’t even contemplate doing the same for most other Republicans, who they see as still too wedded to what they consider an ideologically obsolete GOP.
There are a small handful of libertarianish GOP leaders who also inspire right-leaning young people, primarily because they share policy positions similar to Amash — Reps. Thomas Massie, Tim Huelskamp, Mark Sanford, Raul Labrador, Mick Mulvaney, and Senator Mike Lee, come to mind.
But for much of the millennial generation, most Republicans are simply far too Bush-Cheney and not enough Amash-Paul. If they want to attract more youth votes, it is up to Republican leaders to change these lingering perceptions, primarily through their voting records.
The Republican Party needs to find a way to inspire young voters to pack themselves into a bar to pour their hearts, lungs, and wallets out for a leader they genuinely believe in.
To do so, Republicans will have to rethink some policy positions and learn from past mistakes. They will have to adapt to a country that is changing in ways young people see clearly and too many in the old guard don’t.
To inspire youth, Republicans will have to rediscover the importance of the Constitution. They will have to value liberty.
They will have to be more like Justin Amash.