Why you should care
The next American president will likely be shaped by shifting conservative currents.
It’s true that the Republican Party remains a lot older, whiter and male-er than the American population as a whole. But that doesn’t mean the party isn’t changing — it’s just not changing in a way that’s always visible to the naked eye. In fact, the GOP is undergoing a kind of evolution as it figures out how to maintain unity among its pro-business, social conservative and libertarian factions. Those dividing lines are going to be on sharp display as the 2016 presidential campaigns gear up.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is, of course, the poster child for the libertarian movement within the party, but he’s not the only one embracing a more laissez-faire attitude on certain issues, such as drugs and gay marriage, that social conservatives abhor. More mainstream Republicans, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also offer some crossover appeal on social issues. Paul lines up with the pro-business side in supporting President Barack Obama’s recent moves to ease the long-standing embargo on Cuba. Where they diverge is on spending, particularly on government programs that benefit the business community. There, the right wing and the libertarian movement are on the same page, happy to whack away at spending even at the expense of businesses.
The growing power of libertarian ideas in the Republican Party is no flash in the pan, according to anti-tax icon Grover Norquist. Rather, libertarianism is “a long-term trend with no obvious roadblock in sight,” he writes in an OZY op-ed. Paul, in other words, is just the beginning.
And that’s not the only new breed of Republican trying to shake up the party. Outside Washington, OZY has found some young conservatives eager to bring a fresh voice to a political brand not known for being terribly plugged into the cadences of youth. Marilinda Garcia of New Hampshire, a harpist in her early 30s, didn’t win her election to Congress this fall, but she proved a far more formidable candidate than most people expected. Another 30-something, San Jose policeman Scott Erickson, is also making waves with his outspoken conservative stances on policing, privacy and counterterrorism. But they’re both veterans compared to 12-year-old Coreco Pearson Jr., who’s campaigning to lower Georgia’s age requirement for running for office.
Is this the future of the GOP? Hard to say. What is true is that the party’s direction is going to be hashed out before our very eyes over the next couple of years. And with these types of people in the mix, it will be well worth watching.