President Trump hosted a forum for millennials at the White House Thursday, and it was a total travesty.
No millennial issues were addressed at the event, but Trump did find time to attack Hillary Clinton and offer advice to his 25-year-old self. He dismissed campus censorship — the primary issue of his young supporters and millennial conservatives — as overblown. He also touted tax cuts and tariffs, two policy items that aren’t exactly hot button issues for young people.
The other speakers at the forum were similarly tone-deaf. Ivanka Trump talked about how she’s a young person (no way!) and in generic platitudes. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway mistook her voting-age audience for seven year olds when she offered her advice on how to avoid drugs.
“As somebody double your age: Eat the ice cream, have the French fry, don’t buy the street drug. Believe me, it all works out,” Conway said.
If only meth addicts had the same desires as kindergartners…
It’s unclear what the purpose of the forum was but it surely didn’t appeal to young people. Unfortunately, Trump’s misadventure of a forum is only the latest example of Republican incompetence at youth outreach.
Trump only received 37 percent of the youth vote in 2016, which was equal to Mitt Romney’s total among the demographic in 2012. The numbers have only gotten worse since 2016, with a March Pew Research Center poll showing only 29 percent of young voters are preparing to vote for the GOP in the mid-terms.
According to that same Pew poll, 57 percent of millennials identify as liberal, while only 12 percent describe themselves as conservative.
The blame for this lackluster support is often leveled at Trump, even though Republicans have long struggled with millennials, as shown by Romney’s lackluster performance in 2012.
There are a few big reasons why the GOP does poorly with young voters, and they have little to do with Trump. One is that young Americans are less white than older generations. The GOP has yet to figure out a serious way to appeal to minorities and is dependent on high white turnout to win elections.
White millennials are not too different from their older counterparts in political preferences, with young white males identifying as Republicans (50 percent) at roughly the same rate as whites in general (51 percent), according to Pew.
The second big problem is that Republicans do little to address the issues millennials care about, such as the student loan crisis. About 44 million Americans have student loan debt, and the average amount for a recent graduate is over $35,000.
This form of debt is the primary reason young people are delaying home ownership and other responsibilities that made their parents more conservative as they aged.
But Republicans are offering no ideas for relieving this crisis. In fact, Trump’s Department of Education has made it slightly worse by cutting back on relief for defrauded student loan borrowers and cracking down on state regulations of loan companies. Not exactly a great message to tell struggling millennials.
One of the reasons young people flocked to Bernie Sanders was his promise to tackle the student loan burden. Sanders’ ideas for doing so may have been naive and unfeasible, but that didn’t matter to his young supporters. They were happy somebody was finally addressing their concerns.
Sadly, Trump couldn’t even address the free speech concerns of his own young supporters. Instead, they heard more criticism of his irrelevant 2016 opponent and how great the tax cuts are. Because there’s nothing millennials care more about than how much Hillary sucks and reduced corporate tax rates.
But it’s not like any other Republican is doing much better at appealing to young people. In the 2016 GOP primary, Sen. Marco Rubio was purported to be the party’s secret weapon to winning over milllennials… because he was in his 40s and listened to EDM. Cue up the “hello fellow kids” meme.
It may be unlikely that Republicans can ever win over the Bernie Bros, even with a great plan to resolve the student loan debt crisis. But at least talking about this issue at a millennial forum, along with the difficulty in entering the professional work force, would have made for good outreach.
Definitely better than thinking a potential addict chooses between ice cream and heroin.
The other smart thing Republicans can do is to reinforce the little support they have among young people by speaking out against campus censorship and political correctness. A 2016 Pew poll showed that 60 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 believe “too many people are easily offended these days over language,” a feeling that shows most young people do believe campus censorship is an issue.
Students created massive outrages on campus just by chalking Trump’s name. It’s a slap in the face to tell them they’re overreacting when they face harassment just for voting Trump. It’s also a betrayal of Trump’s campaign pledge to fight against political correctness.
The first step to reaching out to millennials is listening to their concerns, especially the ones who most fervently support you. Maybe Trump will learn this if he tries to give a talk at a university.