Opinion: The Future of the Republican Party
The Republican party waited with baited breath as former President Donald Trump took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)in Orlando, Fla. this past weekend.
The weekend was a vital event for the conservative movement as it laid the foundation for the party’s future following Trump’s forced exit from the Oval Office. High profile members of the party took the stage and inspired members in attendance, including those adorned with American flags and “Make America Great Again” hats.
The big question on everyone’s minds, however, required a much bigger answer than Ted Cruz’s notable mid-speech shout of “Freedom!” Conservative; liberals and media personnel alike were all wondering: what exactly is in store for the future of the Republican party?
“We are at a decision point in our party,” Florida Representative, Matt Gaetz said over the weekend. “Are we going to be ‘America first’ or are we going to regress back to the establishment?”
Gaetz is part of the younger demographic of Congress in age and experience. While the Republican party has been labeled the party of “old, white men,” since Trump’s election in 2016, the amount of diversity in the party has greatly increased.
Pew Research reports that the red party garnered more newly elected minority representatives this past election, with nine of the 16 freshmen being Republican. Additionally, the party is looking toward younger members of Congress to begin taking on leadership roles, with congress members like Gaetz and newly elected representative Madison Cawthorn from North Carolina particularly in the spotlight.
“(The Republican party) is not so much focused on social issues,” Cawthorn said. “We’ve got our pillars…we’re pro-life, we believe in liberty, we believe in the freedom of speech, the right to privacy, the ability to defend yourself, and then on that I think it slants a good bit more to the libertarian side these days, which is something I’m all for.”
Embracing the ideals of conservative libertarianism is something a lot of younger Republican members have been leaning into since Trump’s entrance into the narrative. While many of these members still consider themselves loyal to Trump and his mission, they remain individuals.
Trump’s role in the party completely revived conservatives after almost 20 years of complacency in politics. Though Republicans held onto the presidency with George W. Bush, his administration is often seen as a moderate time of change for Republicans before it was lost to Barack Obama the next term. From there the party noticeably lost energy until Trump’s charisma came into the picture in 2016.
According to a straw poll that was done at CPAC, Trump is still a favorite of the party considering 55% of voters in the poll said they would vote for him again should he run in 2024. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis followed in second place with 21%. It remains evident that Trump is the clear leader of the party, and will remain a force to be reckoned with.
The decision to have Trump speak at the conference showed the party and their opposers that they won’t be stepping away from the former president any time soon. While he may run again in 2024, a host of young leaders trail him and lead the way in Congress. A growing quarter of the party is under the age of 50, with more added in the younger demographics each election.
The key to the GOP’s future resides in the young leaders like DeSantis and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noems, a pairing that many hope to see in the running for president and vice president respectively in 2024.
While Trump holds the power in the party, the GOP should work to utilize his charisma and his work to catapult the values of the party into the next generation of conservatives, rather than allowing the party to rest solely on his shoulders.
“My plea to young conservatives is to join us in the ‘America First’ movement and to embrace the political realignment that President Trump led,” Gaetz said.
Savanna Graves is the News Editor. Follow her on Twitter at @SavannaLeigh.