After my work with the Trump campaign—seeing firsthand the types of people he was attracting to vote for him and work for his campaign—I have to admit that the stereotypes I’ve clung to about the Republican Party set in more so than ever before.
The other volunteers with Trump’s campaign in Des Moines were middle aged, less educated, working class white folks who harbored deep rooted resentment towards the government and President Obama in particular. They were religious, set in their ways and angry… very angry.
While it’s fair to say Trump voters are not necessarily representative of the entire GOP, speaking with these people and hearing their reasons for why they were supporting Trump made me feel like I had a pretty good grasp on where the Republican Party currently stands in 2016. They were disillusioned with the political process and the GOP establishment, they felt left out by globalization and they believed their values were under attack from a non-sectarian big government and the politically correct police (to say nothing of the fact that they were about as diverse as a Mayflower reunion).
That was team Trump in Iowa. But a week later, as I was dispatched to the Marco Rubio campaign in Manchester, New Hampshire, all of the preconceived notions I had about Republican voters were being challenged.
After working as poll greeters outside a location the Senator visited on primary day, our group of 7 people returned to the campaign headquarters to find the office bustling with volunteers—many white, a few black and Hispanic, but overwhelmingly, noticeably young.
It brought back memories of my own time volunteering on the Obama campaign in 2008 as a wide-eyed eighth grader and high school freshman, spending nearly all of my free time stuffing envelopes, canvassing and phone banking at the local campaign office in my Pennsylvania hometown. I was a kid engaging in my first election (one where I wasn’t even able to vote)—but I was swept up in the excitement, energy and hope that a single man was bringing to the country.
None of this is to say that Rubio is the Republican Obama, but it is undoubtedly noteworthy that ff the 35 or so people cramped into this small phone banking room, the vast majority must have been younger than 25—a reality that was as surprising as it was heartening.
I do not support Rubio, or any of the Republican candidates, but there’s still a lot to be said for an inspiring candidate who is drawing young people to participate in the political process. After all, that’s what Wake the Vote is all about.
For years now, the GOP has been hammered as the party of middle aged white men, a “coalition” that would fall apart as the growing blocks of young and minority voters moved in swaths to the Democratic Party.
Despite the fact that Rubio came in a disappointing fifth place in New Hampshire, with just 11% of the vote, spending those few hours in that campaign office was telling. I’m more eager than ever to see how the remaining Republican candidates attract voters my age.
Rubio may not be the next president, and he may well not even be the Republican nominee in 2016, but that might not matter at all. History has shown us again and again that failed presidential candidates can still have a significant and lasting impact on their party.
And based on what I saw in New Hampshire—the youth and enthusiasm for a candidate who only came in fifth place—I’m not convinced Marco Rubio’s candidacy won’t help move the GOP away from its past base and into the 21st Century.