The Republican Party is a house divided. Trump, the latest abusive husband to darken the doorway, has just gotten laid off. He’s stormed out now, blabbering expletives as he drunkenly shambles down the walk. As her former provider departs in disgrace, the Republican establishment stands in the entryway, rolling pin in hand, yelling never to come back. Even as she celebrates his absence, gossiping with the neighbors about his awful ways, she frets that no one will be able to fill his shoes. It sure was good while it lasted. Exciting, even. Inside, the children sit in the shambles of family dinner, arguing about who’s to blame and what the future holds. Consider this an account of the kids table.
On one side of the table you have people like me, the young Republicans that supported Trump. On a spectrum, we tend to believe that Trump was, at worst, a necessary evil that resulted in a number of profitable tradeoffs for conservatives and, at best, that Trump was an unabashed good in and of himself, a candidate who hinted at an actual future for right wing politics beyond meekly protesting the excesses of the left.
On the other side of the table you have the young Republicans who held their noses and held out, refusing to support Trump. Republicans of this sort founded Gen Z GOP, an organization for young Republicans founded in mid 2020 and devoted to “[charting] a new vision for the Republican Party.” Their totally reimagined Republican Party would “find balance, formulate solutions, and focus on the future,” thereby presenting a “palatable alternative to the political left.”
The final sentence of Gen Z GOP’s mission statement exposes their true colors. The operative word, “palatable,” raises important questions. Palatable to whom? Clearly they aren’t aiming for the average Republican voter, a group that overwhelmingly supported Trump, or the millions of young Republicans who voted for Trump. No, Gen Z GOP’s real constituency is the liberal press and the broader orbit of “Never Trump” politicos.
Beneath this slick facade, Gen Z GOP is quite boring and typical. They are but the latest in a long line of nonprofits founded by students and claiming some inspirational, idealistic, “world-changing” purpose. The real purpose of most of these organizations is simple careerism (I want to improve my college admissions prospects, I want to burnish my resume for employers, etc.) and they live for media coverage. These organizations do relatively little of substance, maybe hosting some “town halls” or “public forums” to preserve the illusion of activity. At base, they are nothing more than vehicles for the career interests of their founders.
Gen Z GOP is no different. Their only real innovation is discovering that there is no point in being the one millionth social justice shell corp. Better to be the first youth organization devoted to weak tea conservatism. To give credit where credit is due, the organization has attracted plenty of coverage. Demonstrating the power of combining the #youth #activism grift with the Never Trump “pick me” model pioneered by the Lincoln Project, Gen Z GOP has garnered praise from Iraq War apologists like Bill Kristol as well as scores of mainstream media outlets.
It’s no surprise that Gen Z GOP has been supported by individuals and organizations that would happily see the Republican Party reduced to rubble. Likely owing to their meager intellectual foundations, they have rolled out a platform that substitutes eye-glazing niceties for philosophical coherence. Take their stance on abortion. They contend that we ought to “recognize and appreciate the importance of every single human life” and that “current laws on the books are suboptimal in the mission of protecting life.” They then go on to advocate greater funding for healthcare organizations so as to ensure that the “fetus” gets proper care following its birth. You can already sense how queasy genuine social conservatism is to Gen Z GOP. The use of “suboptimal” and “fetus” is a blatant concession to the amoral utilitarianism of the left. These are human beings, babies, not science experiments. Killing them in droves is not suboptimal, it's an abomination.
It's like their goal was to articulate, in depth, a version of that infamously incomprehensible Clinton quote, when he declared that abortions should be “safe, legal and rare.” They take no position on the legality of abortion, the raging core of the entire debate. Instead, they hide behind a vague commitment to “life,” satisfying no one except those who reflexively blurt “well the truth lies in the middle” to every difficult question. I hope everyone sees this ethical dodge for what it is.
Despite claiming that a “new vision for the Republican Party'' is needed, the remainder of Gen Z GOP’s platform is mostly devoted to the same, bedraggled ideas Republicans have trotted out for decades. There are the usual paeans to limited government. There’s the mandatory fist shaking about fiscal conservatism and entitlement reform. There’s the iron-clad insistence that American power should be used to (read: American soldiers should be sent to) uphold “the rule of law” and “democratic norms.” They support cutting entitlements, promoting market-based healthcare solutions and reforming our immigration system.
What is new about any of this? They even have a section on Common Core, which hasn’t been a live political issue since I was in middle school. At the very least, they spare us from calls for even more tax cuts.
Their platform is also risible for the issues it neglects. They scarcely mention the prospect of reindustrializing the American economy, bowing to the bog standard consensus that the U.S.’ days as the workshop of the world are behind us. To the extent that they discuss the decline of manufacturing, they mainly treat it as a national security issue, pretending that American industry is a mere instrumental good.
This issue is part and parcel of the deeper philosophical problem with their platform––it contains no vision of the common good. What kind of society are we trying to build? What are the moral ends we are trying to actualize? I know I would like to live in a country where strong marriages and healthy families were the norm. I would like to live in a country where we combated relentless alienation with a revitalization of community. I want to build a polity that supports the least among us and enables them to live lives of decency.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
From these first principles, I work my way up to the level of policy and I do my best to consider whether one proposal or another will bring us closer to the realization of my values. That’s why, even though I am a Republican, I’ve come to reject many traditional Republican policies, like deficit hawkery and military adventurism, and now support a more interventionist economic approach and even certain expansions of the welfare state.
Despite claims to the contrary, Gen Z GOP has not made much of an attempt to rethink Republican orthodoxy. I can’t sense their underlying principles from the policies on their website. What I can sense is a whiff of social triangulation. This is a platform that effectively demarcates the furthest right a person can be on a modern college campus and still maintain an air of social respectability. If I am correct, then the Gen Z GOP’ers will be centrists by tomorrow and Girondins by next week.
Needless to say, I want no part of Gen Z GOP’s vision. They aspire to create a Republican Party that is a respectable rump, its representatives fit to be invited on cable news but not to actually govern in the interests of the American nation. They run a digital organization, but their political instincts are woefully analog. Ultimately the only real difference between them and Republicans like John McCain or George Bush is that the members of Gen Z GOP aren’t craggy and old. They’re just craggy and old at heart.
Reiss Becker is a Trinity senior. His column, “roused rabble,” typically runs on alternate Wednesdays.