What Should the GOP Look Like After Trump’s Presidency? Some Young Utah Republicans Weigh In
When the Utah Valley University College Republicans leadership met to make plans for the upcoming semester, they started by looking back at the nation’s history.
The five-member board sat on couches and armchairs around the coffee table in Nick Compton’s living room last month. Compton is 23-years-old and president of the club. He started off with a slideshow presentation on the living room TV about the founding fathers, who were also young people interested in politics.
Just as the UVU College Republicans club is planning for its future, the Republican party as a whole is faced with a choice about which direction to go now that former President Donald Trump has left office.
According to Compton, the United States needs to return to the principles laid out in the constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Those include freedom of speech, the right to bear arms and of course, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Compton said he’d like to have former President Trump help the Republican Party get there — but maybe not as the party’s top figurehead.
“[Former Vice President] Mike Pence needs to take a more central role because he has the same ideas for where the nation needs to turn, but he can present it in a diplomatic fashion,” Compton said. “He would, in essence, be winning over people like my parents.”
Compton said his parents voted for Trump, but they did so reluctantly because they didn’t like his rhetoric.
Trump is slightly less popular among young Republicans than party members as a whole, but his approval rating is still high. A poll from Harvard University last fall found that 79% of 18 to 29-year-old Republicans approved of the job Trump did as President. That’s just about 10 percentage points less than Republicans as a whole at that time.
This was before the pro-Trump extremist siege on the Capitol, but his approval ratings among Republicans as a whole still remains high. A poll from Suffolk University, for example, found that 81% of Republicans had a favorable view of Trump after the insurrection. That poll did not break down the ratings among Republicans by age.
The generational split in the GOP also plays out when looking at attitudes towards social issues, like immigration, racial justice, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, according to Quin Monson. He’s a political science professor at Brigham Young University and a partner at the polling firm Y2 analytics.
Monson said it’s unusual to have this big of a divide between generations, and used more liberal views on LGBTQ rights as an example. According to a poll from the Pew Research Center in 2016, 45% of 18 to 19-year-old Republicans thought that transgender people should be required to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth. 74% of 30 to 49-year-olds felt the same way.
“We've seen a national change in public opinion on those issues and on gay marriage that has been more dramatic and more rapid than — I don't think that I can't think of another issue that has changed as dramatically as that has,” he said.
Regardless of party, young adults came of age when attitudes about these social issues had shifted dramatically.
“For my kids, it's just the socialization that happened because they came of age when it wasn't stigmatized at the same extent at all,” Monson said. “They don't have to change their attitudes. They're actually forming their attitudes at that point.”
When Republican Mitt Romney lost the presidential race in 2012, Monson said, the GOP realized they needed to appeal to the changing attitudes of their party’s young people. But Trump’s rise to power made that more difficult.
“If it recovers back to a more anti-Trump type Republican, then maybe that movement is stopped,” he said.
Trump’s Double-Edged Sword
24-year-old Emilie Clark, also a member of the UVU College Republicans, does want Trump to remain the party’s figurehead. But she’s also worried about her party going too far right.
Clark said there are Republicans and Democrats that are racist, sexist and close-minded. She hopes those people remain a minority in her party.
“I just hope that we don't let those people that are in the Republican Party just take over,” she said, “[or] the Republicans to be known as a racist or sexist party, because I have not found it to be that way.”
Clark didn’t always like Trump’s rhetoric when he was a candidate or president, but she’d still like to see him lead the GOP. Sure, Trump isn’t a perfect speaker, she said — but no one is.
“I think sometimes his rhetoric fits [into my vision for the party] and sometimes it doesn't,” Clark said. “He is known for saying what's on his mind, which can be a good thing because sometimes there are things that just need to be said to clear the air, talk about the elephant in the room. But then there are some times when he probably shouldn't he really shouldn't have said that or said it in a better way.”
Clark and Compton both said the recent violent storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremists doesn’t change their opinion of the former president. They pointed to the fact that he called for peace about an hour after the siege began.
A New Direction
But other young Republicans, like 23-year-old Seodam Kwak, think it’s time for the GOP to move on from Trump. Kwak is the vice chair of the Utah Federation of College Republicans and graduated from the University of Utah in December. Kwak believes Trump incited the violent insurrection of the U.S. Capitol.
“If that's going to be his rhetoric from now on, I strongly think [former] President Trump should not be part of the Republican Party,” he said. “I believe that's dangerous. I think what really is needed right now is for the country to come together. Spreading lies and false information like that does not absolutely help.”
Kwak said his party needs to focus more on issues that matter to Young Republicans.
“Where I see the Republican Party going in the next 10 years — where I want it to [go] — is a new realigned party that talks about issues that are going to be relevant to our future generations,” he said.
While Kwak, Clark and Compton may feel differently about Trump, they all agree that to move forward, Republicans need to have one eye on the past — on their core principles — and one eye on the future.