Why This Young Conservative Thinks “Washington As Usual Is Done”

Photo: Courtesy of the College Republican National Committee.
Despite the map that may have been going around your Facebook proclaiming that Hillary Clinton won the majority of millennials, the fact is that she didn't win all of the millennial vote. According to election-night exit polls from CNN, Donald Trump walked away with an estimated 37% of voters age 18-29. While that may surprise your meme-sharing friends — not to mention pollsters — it doesn’t surprise Alex Smith. “We knew from the very beginning,” Smith, the national chairman of the College Republican National Committee, told Refinery29 by phone. “Since November of 2012, we have been on the drumbeat that young voters were going to decide the 2016 election.” Smith, who had spent Election Day working on voter issues in Pennsylvania, said that she was stunned and excited by the opportunities that a Republican win meant. “I think where we were all at on election night was, Wow, this is an incredible opportunity for us to truly enact a Republican agenda that will work for the American people,” she said. “These changes to the laws, the laws that would impact just millions of Americans, it became a reality.” Refinery talked to Smith about what Trump’s election means for conservative youth, what she hopes to see out of a Trump presidency, and what advice a conservative who came of age under President Obama can offer liberals about the next four to eight years.

What are young people, and young conservatives like yourself, hoping to see out of a Trump presidency?
“I think what young voters in general have always been looking for — and this is something that our research has consistently backed up — is a problem-solver that’s not afraid to take on the big challenges of the day. “Young voters are much less ideological than our generational counterparts. This is the generation where more voters identify themselves as independents than any other political affiliation out there. So in a lot of ways it fits with where President-Elect Trump is. He himself holds positions that haven’t necessarily been what the positions of the Republican Party have been in the past.”

For young conservatives who came of age in the Obama presidency, what does this election mean?
“It’s a chance to see a GOP governing agenda work on a national level. For eight years, we’ve been the opposition party. Just tactically speaking, our posture has been from a place of 'no.’ And I think what Speaker Ryan saw early on was, if we want to be a winning party and a governing party, we need to come from a place of ‘yes.’ And that’s why he developed his Better Way, something that he spoke to President-Elect Trump frequently about before the November election. “Of course, I’m sure there will be some differences, and I’m sure that there will be details, particulars that will have to be worked out, depending on what President-Elect Trump’s priorities are. But there are plans in place, and there are opportunities for this generation of young conservatives to see conservative principles play out on the national stage, [which] is just really exciting."

I think his message has been one of inclusiveness.

There have been a whole lot of protests and demonstrations against President-Elect Trump. What would you want to tell people who see Trump’s election as a disaster?
“I would look to the speech that he gave on election night. I guess it was the morning after at that point. I thought it was a very magnanimous speech, I thought it was a gracious speech where he was trying to welcome people into the fold. We saw him say during the 60 Minutes interview [on Sunday] that if there was any violence being committed by his supporters, that that was something that he absolutely condemned and didn’t want to be a part of. I think his message has been one of inclusiveness. “After 2008, but especially so after 2012, we were brutally honest with each other about where we needed to grow as a party. We were brutally honest with each other about what needed to be done. I think that you can see we did make inroads in this election. And I hope that the agenda that we can put forth for the American people over the next four years is something where they can see that Republican policies do work and do want to lift everyone up, not just a select few.”

In the past few days, the announcement of Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist during his transition has drawn an enormous amount of condemnation and outcry over allegations of racism and white-supremacist connections. What do you think of the backlash, and what do you think needs to be done to address those concerns?
“Mr. Trump has made it clear that he intends to be a president whose actions are beneficial to all Americans. We've seen young Americans express a great deal of concern about the burden Obamacare places on them and the lack of job prospects available to them, and as president-elect, he has already started to address those issues.” What are you hoping to see in terms of diversity, particularly the inclusion of women, in Trump's cabinet and staffing appointments?
“Donald Trump has a record of supporting diversity in leadership throughout his business career. I hope that he carries the same mindset of embracing the varied opinions a diverse cabinet will bring to the Oval Office as he works to build bridges and improve the lives of Americans everywhere.”
Republicans had to deal with eight years under a Democrat. What advice do you have for liberal youth on how to get through the next four to eight years?
“It takes a lot of introspection, it takes a lot of talking to people that you might not be familiar with, and you might not understand where they’re coming from. But really trying to speak with them and understand what their situation is and why they might be thinking the way they’re thinking. “I think it’s important to exit the bubble. Get off of Twitter and the same ten reporters you follow who are saying the same ten things to each other.”

What do you think that young people, across party lines, should be taking away from this election?
“The main takeaway for young people, I think, from this election is that Washington as usual, Washington Inc., is done. The way that things have been operating in the past, whether it’s been under Republican administrations or Democratic administrations, is not working for this generation. “This is an incredibly diverse, incredibly driven generation that has changed the way our economy fundamentally works. We are an incredibly entrepreneurial generation, we’re a generation that’s never been told what to do. We’ve never been told how to learn, how to communicate, how to buy things, or what to do. It’s what drives older generations crazy about our generation! But I think it actually makes us some of the most freedom-loving people in history.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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