The idea of a “President Mitt Romney” proved a pipe dream for Republicans in 2012 – and there’s evidence that the youth vote played a big role in that outcome.
Nearly 23 million people between 18 and 29 voted in 2012, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, many of whom were likely energized by Barack Obama’s socially liberal stances on issues like marriage equality.
Obama certainly has his flaws, both in his policy and his prose. Look no further than last week, when Obama said to a YouTube interviewer that he hopes the Supreme Court makes the “right decision” on same-sex marriage because “even if you disagree with their lifestyle choice, the fact of the matter is, they’re not bothering you.”
That kind of flippant language – implying that being gay is fine with Middle America as long as we keep it to ourselves – denigrates Obama’s office and should not score points with young progressive constituencies who helped put him there.
But looking ahead to 2016, the options on the other side of the aisle are more frightening, venturing to rhetorical and philosophical places Obama has never gone.
Take, for example, Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who appeared at a rally alongside Cindy Jacobs, an evangelical televangelist “prophet,” who in 2011 drew a parallel between the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and thousands of animal deaths in Arkansas. Rachel Maddow first reported this odd connection on her MSNBC show this week.
“There is a potential that there is something that actually happened in the land where 100,000 drumfish died and also where these birds just fell out of the air,” Jacobs said. “It could be because we have said it’s OK for people who commit these kind of acts to be recognized in our military for the first time in our history.”
Also within the last week, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, lauded even by some liberals in his state for his theatrical and bombastic public performances, capitalized on his socially conservative credentials in Iowa.
“He vetoed the gay-marriage bill in New Jersey,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said while introducing Christie to the annual Iowa Freedom Summit. “He is pro-life.”
After same-sex marriage victories in 36 states and a Supreme Court case expected to settle the question once and for all on the docket this term, why is touting anti-marriage views still a viable selling point for Republicans?
On “Meet The Press” this week, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee rebuffed the widely accepted premise that sweeping court action on same-sex marriage means that it is, in fact, legal.
“I’m advocating an adherence to the Constitution,” said Huckabee, who has admitted to considering yet another bid for America’s top office. “I’m really saying that there’s a process to change the law and it doesn’t involve one unilateral branch of government.”
Even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – regarded by many as an early frontrunner and a voice of reason amid an otherwise crowded and disjointed field – didn’t do much to differentiate his thinking from others in his party.
“The state decided. The people of the state decided,” Bush said in an interview with the Miami Herald about same-sex marriage in Florida. “But it’s been overturned by the courts, I guess.”
In 2012, 60 percent of young voters supported Obama. That percentage was even higher in 2008. And the study from Tufts shows that if the youth vote was more evenly divided among the candidates in key swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, Romney could have claimed the presidency.
The point is this: Victory in 2016 is within reach for the GOP. In fact, three consecutive terms with a Democrat in the White House would be a feat liberals haven’t accomplished since Harry Truman succeeded Franklin Roosevelt’s three and a half terms in office in 1945.
But Republicans won’t get there if they continue to throw away the younger, more liberal voting bloc with anti-gay commentary. It behooves none of us to ignore hateful rhetoric that could turn into discriminatory laws should any of these candidates eventually go on to win the electoral college.
Justin Peligri is a student at George Washington University.