A new organization for young conservatives will kick into gear next week with the express goal of "drowning out" the cranks and kooks who have "hijacked" the Republican Party, and converting a generation of dissatisfied Democrats and independents on college campuses across the country.
"The thesis of our organization is that young people are not liberal," said Josh Nass, a Brandeis student and founder of the group, Voices of Conservative Youth. "They vote for Democrats but that is not a function of their genuine political philosophy. And that's not their fault, it's ours. The party and the leadership has given them no attention, has done nothing in terms of outreach, and we're going to change that."
Nass, who describes himself as a "21-year-old, ambitious, yet slightly insecure college kid," said the group plans to build a national network of university chapters, maintain an active and aggressive social media presence, and work with a public relations firm to get young conservative activists on outlets like Comedy Central, MTV, and Univision. It has already collected a mailing list of 1,000 college students in the northeast, and predicts it will quickly balloon to 10,000 once it starts advertising itself online next week.
While the outreach they are doing is meant to fill the void left by Republican leaders, Nass stressed that they will break from the GOP establishment on key issues.
The most obvious example is that Voices of Conservative Youth supports marriage equality and plans to elevate conservatives like Stephanie Petelos, a college Republican who made headlines last week in Alabama for going to battle with party poobahs over comments she made about the marriage issue.
"I've been told by countless people not to do this — not because it wouldn't improve the party's image among young people, but because they said, 'You're gonna be met with a lot of resistance. You're gonna create a lot of enemies for yourself," Nass said. "And that's true, but it will be all the right folks; the Ralph Reeds of the world, the Tony Perkins of the world, the people who have held the party back and have basically hijacked it."
Nass pulled no punches in his assessment of the party's failures, criticizing the Republican National Committee ("does a lot of talking"); Rick Santorum ("anyone who says he's going to win the presidency needs to get their heads checked"); and the College Republicans, a group he abandoned citing its inability to recruit a single non-conservative to the cause.
But if Nass plans to upset certain elements of the party, he does have the support of at least one major GOP player: Sheldon Adelson. Nass, who proudly self-identifies as a "Zionist," said he is close to the Jewish mega-donor and that Adelson has provided ample "moral support." They even appear together in a photo on the group's homepage. (Nass declined to comment on the organization's donors.)
The riddle of coalition-building is one Republicans have been actively trying to solve since Election Day 2012, universally acknowledging the need to attract more young people, but disagreeing vehemently about how to do it. And while token outreach platforms — like The Daily Show and Twitter — have come up more than once, few have been as aggressive as Nass' group about advocating for the elimination of certain planks in the party's platform.
But Jimmy LaSalvia, the former executive director of the conservative gay organization GOProud and a board member for Voices of Conservative Youth, said embracing gay rights is an essential step the party must take.
"It's especially important that conservative organizations recognize the world we live in today, and I am pleased that VOCY is making the effort to engage with young gay Americans because gay people are very much a part of America in 2013," LaSalvia said.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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