WASHINGTON — Since the election, the Republican Party has begun making new approaches to groups whose support regularly elects Democrats, beginning with women and minorities.
This week, a group of House Republicans will target another demographic: Millennials.
Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, the House Republican conference chair, has organized a 45-minute roundtable about the federal deficit with young voters from groups including Can Kicks Back and the National Campus Leadership Council. Reps. Paul Ryan, Adam Kinzinger, Jamie Herrera Beutler, and Aaron Schock will join the discussion, aides said.
“The reforms advocated by House Republicans and the challenges facing millennials go hand in hand,” Will Allison, a spokesperson for Ryan, explained.
The dialogue will be held off-the-record, but lawmakers said Monday that their goal is to reset the perception among young voters that Republicans don’t share their policy priorities, or communicate them in the same way. Republicans have long sought — with mixed results — to make the case that their plans to restructure entitlements are aimed not at slashing the programs but at preserving them in some form for younger voters, and House Republicans believe they should be making it more forcefully.
“When you look at what Gov. Romney spent versus Obama on new media during the election, it’s like a skyscraper next to a tiki hut,” said Schock, the youngest member of Congress, who was elected at age 27. He added, “We don’t have to change who we are, but we have to make our positions relevant to the people to whom we’re trying to communicate.”
“The reality is, many of the decision-makers on Capitol Hill are in their 60s and 70s,” Schock added. “There’s a certain responsibility among the younger members of Congress to start engaging on these issues.”
The Republican lawmakers won’t be looking to improve their party’s image alone: They hope, too, to present Congress in a more functional light.
“If you’re a college student, all you know is a Congress that has grown increasingly rancorous and unproductive,” said Casey Bowman, a spokesperson for Herrera Beutler.
In fact, and perhaps surprisingly, younger voters despise Congress to a lesser degree than most Americans: According to a recent PPP poll, young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 have a more favorable view of Congress than do their older counterparts (although millennials still prefer lice to the legislative branch).
The fiscal-centric roundtable will come at a good time: just one day before the deadline to replace the automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration. Kinzinger predicts the discussion will turn at some point to that issue, which Congress is expected to address only once the cuts have taken effect.
But the lawmakers will likely try to avoid a cynical approach to that and other fiscal topics.
“We can be the party of optimism,” Kinzinger said. “They’re legitimately a very optimistic generation. We have to start selling what we’re talking about from a position of optimism.”
Update: Gabrielle McCaffrey, the communications and policy director at the National Campus Leadership Council, emails to clarify: “The students attending (Wednesday) are not representatives of NCLC, just affiliated with our organization. NCLC helps connect student leaders to opportunities like this, but doesn’t take organization-wide positions or represent the views of every campus it works with. They are Student Body Presidents from Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington,D.C. who are representing themselves and their schools, and therefore anything they say will be on their own behalf.”