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Some Young Republican Activists Worry About The Future Of Their Party


Last week's Republican National Convention offered direct appeals to a new generation of voters. It showcased figures like Madison Cawthorn, a congressional candidate in North Carolina.


MADISON CAWTHORN: I just turned 25. When I'm elected this November, I'll be the youngest member of Congress in over 200 years. And if you don't think young people can change the world, then you just don't know American history.

PFEIFFER: But President Trump's appeal with young voters is very limited, and some young Republican activists are concerned about the future of the party now totally defined by Trump. NPR's Juana Summers reports.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Lizzie Bond is worried about the future of the Republican Party. The 21-year-old Duke University student said the party today is failing to speak to people like her. She describes herself as conservative, reasonable and a person of faith. In 2016, she could not support Donald Trump and instead volunteered in support of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

LIZZIE BOND: I think specifically within my age cohort, there's a lot of enthusiasm for President Trump. But then there are also a lot of people who are inclined to be conservative who are so disillusioned by everything that they see on the right that it's hard not to think that the future of the Republican Party is doomed.

SUMMERS: Research from CIRCLE, a research center at Tufts University, found that nearly 1 in 5 young voters who backed Republicans in 2018 plan to support Joe Biden this year. Mike Brodo said one reason why young people may be turning away is because the Republican Party is not talking about the right issues.

MIKE BRODO: One of our main themes is that there are issues that Gen Z voters care about, including on the center-right, that the party has failed to address time and time again - climate change, racial injustice, LGBTQ-plus issues.

SUMMERS: Brodo is 20 and goes to Georgetown University. He's the executive director of Gen Z GOP, a group that's looking to reach young Republicans. He's planning to vote for Joe Biden but hopes that there will be a better Republican option than Trump in 2024.

BRODO: Now I think what the ultimate determinant factor is that draws me away from him completely is his poor approach to governance, and that's evident in his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. And that it's no longer just that his policies are inconsistent with my views for what's best for the country - it's how he approaches those policies.

SUMMERS: Many young Republicans said that coming of age as a conservative today has been a bit of a surreal experience.

GRACE KLEIN: I still remember sitting in this restaurant with some friends and being like, oh, wouldn't it be, like, the weirdest thing if the race ended up being Trump versus Hillary? And we were like, oh, my goodness; that would never happen. Like, that'd be so awful. And lo and behold, it's what happened.

SUMMERS: That's Grace Klein. She's 18 and just started her first year at Arizona State University. She described herself as very against Trump during the 2016 Republican primary. Four years later, things have changed.

KLEIN: I'm going to be voting for the first time in November, and I am an adamant supporter. I will 100% vote for him.

SUMMERS: Now, Klein said Trump has exceeded her expectations, but there are some things she does not agree with. She specifically mentioned some of the president's tweets. But she said that his record and his values help her look past what she described as personality flaws. And there's one issue that Klein said is central to her political identity.

KLEIN: I believe that the right to life starts at conception. And if a candidate doesn't support that, I will not support them.

SUMMERS: Kerlyn Mondesir is a 19-year-old student at Coker College in South Carolina. He said the most important issue for him as a conservative is standing up for the Constitution. He was initially open to supporting President Trump in November, but right now, that seems unlikely.

KERLYN MONDESIR: Every day I teeter the line between Vice President Biden and the Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen.

SUMMERS: And back in North Carolina, Lizzie Bond isn't sure either.

BOND: So in November, I'm faced with a really, really difficult decision. I likely won't be supporting either presidential candidate.

SUMMERS: Voters like her have just 63 days to figure it out.

Juana Summers, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF COM TRUISE'S "BROKENDATE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.