Ellen Walter, founder of The Walter Group and former Senior Youngkin advisor recently published an op-ed on how Republicans must learn that voters aged 45+ care about kitchen-table issues – the economy and inflation, crime, and education – not culture-war rhetoric. I completely agree with her analysis and have used a similar approach of focusing on issues that impact the everyday life of voters during my 2022 Congressional campaign. While older voters are usually considered reliable votes one can count on coming to the polls in every election, I believe that the Republican party needs to refocus its efforts to earn support from younger generations.
People born between 1997-2012 – known as “The Gen Z” – will dictate the future of our country, and most don’t have a real appreciation for kitchen table issues. Presently, they are more concerned with social issues such as marriage equality, gun control, drug policies, environmental social justice, and others.
I was born in Soviet Ukraine and came to America as a refugee immigrant. I understand real oppression, daily inflation, the politicization of the police, and how the government always wanted to mandate all aspects of our lives. My philosophy is that people come to America for freedom, opportunity, and a government that supports economic prosperity, security, and creates an environment for citizens to thrive. The freedom to run one’s own business, to educate your child in the manner desired and approved by the parents, and to be able to walk down the street without fear of crime – these are freedoms that America is known for, and areas in which government can, and should, create an environment of options, support, and choice, not regulation.
Contrary to “kitchen table” issues, social issues tend to be ones that the federal government should have zero authority over, and simply get out of the way. People should be allowed to love who they love, be who they want to be, and live a happy life. But what does this mean for the Gen Z voters who usually vote based on social issues? For starters, the Republican party needs to focus efforts on social ideas embraced by this younger generation and find common ground. Grover Norquist famously said the conservatives are held together under the principle that everyone around the table is part of the “Leave Us Alone” coalition. If you want to home-school your children, polish guns all day, or drill for oil on your own property, the government should leave you alone to be able to do so. Do you want to start a hair salon? Great, but that should not require a dozen permits to do so. Do you want to marry the love of your life who happens to be the same gender? Fantastic, best of luck. Why should the federal government be involved – it shouldn’t. This commonality can be transitioned into the embrace of social issues as well, and it is far time the Republican party wakes up.
The Democratic party does a great job of appealing to Gen Z and their “attachment” to social issues by using empathy and compassion. “We feel your pain,” they’ll say from their ivory towers and gated homes. “We understand that ‘the struggle is real,’” as they tweet from private planes leaving taxpayer-funded international trips. The Republican party is the party of immigrants, of freedom, and of equality. We do understand in our core, it is the nature of conservatism to leave people alone to be free to do, within reason and legal bounds, whatever their hearts desire. So why do we have such a hard time saying it? We, the Republican party care about our environment, we care about individuals, we care about minorities, we care about healthcare, we care about equality, but we don’t always do a good job of messaging that to our constituents.
These are all the same issues the Democrats have a stronghold on and entice the young voters to align with them. The Republican party is actually very diverse but fails to tout it. We usually hear more rebuttals to these issues rather than the Republican party leading the conversations on them. If we want to win in future elections, then we need to start focusing on fairness and compassion while still sticking to the core values of economy, safety, and education.
My campaign focused on kitchen table issues, we did not comprise our conservative values, but we reached across the aisle and bring issues from the Democrats into the fold so we can run a truly moderate campaign. As a millennial, I care about our environment and want to leave this world better off for the next generations but I will not do so at the expense of the American people. There are ways to accomplish the same goals by taking a more sensible approach and planning out milestones versus throwing money at the problem.
In the “Tik-Tok” age, it’s increasingly harder to get specific and detailed messages in a sound bite. Gen Z’ers want quick information instead of digging through massive amounts of data to get an answer. How can we effectively communicate conservative values and messaging that is palatable to this generation? For starters, we needed younger people as the face of the Republican party to debunk the myth of it being an old white male party. We need quick facts that get the point across in 20-30 seconds instead of lengthy white papers. And most importantly, we need an open-minded approach to the modern world.
It is time for Republicans and indeed the “conservative” movement as a whole to truly embrace the idea of a “leave us alone” model, but that does not stop with wanting to be left alone to fondle your guns all day. That extends to, and beyond, same-sex marriage, decriminalizing minor first-time drug offenses and legalizing marijuana, women’s rights over their bodies, embracing free-market solutions to address climate change, and much more.
If we do not immediately in the 118th Congress shift toward an embrace of social issues, rooted in our core founding principles, then Republicans may very well find themselves in a purple puddle rather than a red wave.
Karina Lipsman was born in Odesa, Ukraine, and was the 2022 nominee for Virginia’s 8th U.S. Congressional District. She is a 14-year veteran of the U.S. defense and intelligence community.