Politics & Policy

Paul Ryan’s Youth Appeal

His principles could resonate with the young.

When Paul Ryan admitted being a fan of the far-left rap-metal band Rage against the Machine, it immediately made him the target of derision. Maureen Dowd mocked his “iPod full of heavy metal jams”; the group’s guitarist, Tom Morello, promptly declared that “Paul Ryan is the embodiment of the machine our music rages against.”

But is it unimaginable that Ryan’s youth will help him impart right-wing ideas to a generation previously unaware of conservatism’s charms?  

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker thinks Ryan will “absolutely” use his Republican National Convention speech tonight to influence younger voters. In an interview in his Tampa hotel room, Walker points out that the 42-year-old Ryan is closer in age to 20-something voters than he is to 69-year-old vice president Joe Biden.

“I think his speech is going to be great. . . . Paul Ryan is a pro-growth kind of guy, he’s an optimistic kind of guy, and he gets that all from Reagan, just like I and Reince [Priebus, RNC chairman] do.” Walker thinks those principles will resonate with young voters. “Those voters need to wake up and realize that they’re still 27 and living with their parents, and that ‘Hope and Change’ didn’t work out so well,” Walker says.

So far, Ryan’s effect on the young electorate has been promising but mixed. According to a Zogby poll taken shortly after Ryan’s VP selection, 41 percent of voters between 18 and 29 said they would support Mitt Romney for president; it was the first time Romney had cracked the 40 percent ceiling. According to Pew Research, John McCain garnered only 31 percent of this vote in 2008, while Barack Obama won 66 percent. Zogby says Obama’s support in this group has dropped to 49 percent.

Since being elected as a 28-year-old, Ryan has always looked young. He still looks like he could qualify for his parents’ health-insurance plan under Obamacare. He speaks in a way that goes down easy with Millennials. He is conversant in popular culture — he once thoroughly discussed with me his favorite themes in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. It surprised me he didn’t have graphs and charts to back him up.

Most important, it is younger voters who have the most to gain from Ryan’s plan to reform entitlements. With Medicare set to go bankrupt in a decade, Ryan can make a strong case to young voters that his plan is the only chance their generation has to benefit from the programs they currently fund.

But Ryan also needs to make the case for more immediate relief. In July 2012, the unemployment rate among Americans between 16 and 24 years old was 17.1 percent; in 2007, the unemployment rate for this group was 10.8 percent. Now is a perfect time to hit young people with a lesson on how freeing businesses from excessive taxes and regulation can lead to more employment.  

The GOP has history of picking stodgy, avuncular figures to represent it in presidential elections. Republicans have famously rewarded candidates who wait their turn in line. But Ryan is a young man in a hurry — in becoming House budget chairman, he beat out a dozen members with more seniority. If Romney wins, Ryan will become the fourth-youngest vice president in American history.

Ryan can make the case to young people that they don’t have to wait in line to be successful. In tonight’s speech, young voters are going to be talked to like adults. They are going to be challenged to emerge from their ideologically safe college campuses and make the change they want for themselves and for the world around them. And they will be hearing it from someone who has written the blueprint for success. 

— Christian Schneider is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


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