Notes from the Filibuster Fan Box: How Republicans can attract college students

By Russ Davis

I really am a loser.

Most men enjoy watching sporting events –– primarily baseball, basketball and football. My dear uncle (do you remember him, Ledger readers?) can watch multiple Tivo’d football games in one sitting.

Me? On March 6, 2013, I sat glued to the computer screen keeping tabs on Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster of John O. Brennan, President Obama’s nominee for CIA Director. At issue was the use of unmanned combat drones, which Brennan endorsed the year before.

I had to be at school, so I couldn’t watch the filibuster on TV. But a few months later, when there were rumors that Paul would take over the senate floor again over the Obama Administration’s plans (since abandoned) to approve U.S. military force in Syria, I promised I would make it a “proper filibuster”: I’d buy a mountain of junk food, a few bottles of diet soda, and call in sick from school –- all so I could watch The Syria Filibuster: Rand Paul Strikes Back.

In other words, I’d treat a filibuster over Middle East policy like most men treat football games.

Like I said, I really am a loser.

But, to an extent, I’m also hardly alone. Writing for PolicyMic, Robert Taylor noted how members of the millennial generation “put bickering aside… to confront the reality of presidential assassinations, kill lists, indefinite detention and lawless drone war.”

In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama won the 18-29 vote with 67-30 percent over Republican Mitt Romney. In the aftermath, Republicans had to regroup and consider how to win over young voters. Rand Paul managed to do it in 13 hours. He may not have found a silver bullet or a complete solution, but the Republican Party now had a few clues on how to reach out to young voters.

How did mainstream Republicans take it?

The morning following Paul’s filibuster, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial saying that if Republicans “[want] to be taken seriously, [they need] to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in college dorms.”

This editorial was read out loud on the senate floor by Senator John McCain. The same McCain, by the way, who lost the youth vote 32 to 66 percent when he ran for president in 2008. I would imagine McCain would be eager to attract young voters to the Republican Party, but I guess I’m mistaken.

Julie Borowski, a public policy analyst for the libertarian organization FreedomWorks, put it this way: “So let me get this straight. There are young people excited about a Republican Senator talking about the Constitution on C-SPAN. This is so terrible.” Addressing McCain directly, Borowski added, “Are you going to continue to mock energetic young people [who] the GOP desperately needs?”

The Beltway description of McCain is “establishment Republican.” This means he belongs to the wing of the Republican Party that stands for endless war, crony corporatism, government regulations on marriage and drug use, and continued increases in government spending (albeit not as much as the Democratic plans). This school of thought doesn’t appeal to many college age conservatives.

Rand Paul understands this. So does his father, former Representative Ron Paul, whose presidential campaigns have stoked the flames for the creation of groups like Young Americans For Liberty, and campaigns like the youth-centric End The Fed movement.

The Pauls aren’t alone, either: Representatives Justin Amash and Thomas Massie; Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz; and outlets like Reason magazine and Fox Business Network’s The Independents are becoming representative of a “new guard” to the GOP. This “new guard” recognizes that the next generation of conservatism needs to a) respect the Constitution, b) stop treating the U.S. military like the world’s 911, c) get serious about the debt problem, and d) realize that “small government” means a government that doesn’t concern itself with who I want to marry or how much I want to smoke.

The Republican Party has a “youth” problem; if they want to sustain long-term viability, they need to face up to some harsh realities.