By MATT LEMAS · Daily Trojan
The USC Department of Political Science held its first “Political Conversations” event on Monday in the Von KleinSmid Center, hosted by Professor Robert Shrum with political consultant Alex Castellanos leading the discussion.
Launched this year, “Political Conversations” is a series that brings together leading analysts of American politics to discuss the country’s current political landscape. The theme of Monday’s inaugural event was “The Future of the GOP: Should/Can the Party Reinvent Itself?” and focused heavily on building a new generation within the Republican Party.
“Our problems [in the GOP] are pandemic — they are not just with any one group,” Castellanos said. “We’re losing [the youth], we’re losing the future, and that’s the one thing we can’t do. No product can survive this.”
Castellanos, who Shrum described as a “serious horse in GOP politics since the early 1980s,” has worked on various Republican political campaigns over his tenure, including George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 races and Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential run. He declined to work with Romney in 2012.
In an hour-long presentation, Castellanos described the current Republican Party as one too focused on the word “no” — an argument that he believes is destined to fail among young voters.
Rather, his revised GOP mindset, what he calls being a “New Republican,” runs under a slogan, “Freedom Nationally, Values Locally.” Its ideals focus on bottom-up economic policy, that grows “naturally and organically,” an open healthcare system, a bottom-up immigration system that “lets states decide what kind of bright minds and hard workers they need,” and an emphasis on individuals rather than big business and government.
Castellanos stressed that if Republicans continue on their current track, both their chances of success in the next election cycle as well as their overall sustainability as a party is in danger.
“[Against the Democrats] it’s [now] a debate between the ‘promise of more’ and the ‘certainty of no’ — we don’t have much of a shot,” he said.
The veteran political consultant often employed a self-effacing strategy throughout the presentation, speaking candidly on the failures of the Republican Party in accessing a youthful demographic.
“We are so uncool and out-of date, that culturally we’re not acceptable to a new generation of others,” he said.
With this, he was able to contrast current GOP strategy with that of a New Republican. He noted the new strategy must be to show voters that the current Democratic government is old and outdated — one that is too focused on top-down, inflexible strategy from Washington that doesn’t play to the individual.
Shrum, who has worked as a political consultant on the presidential campaigns of Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, was hesitant about many of Castellanos’ points. In particular, he questioned the Republican Party’s ability to successfully shift their stance on social issues and immigration by 2016. Castellanos conceded that marriage equality would, more than likely, not be accepted by Republicans by that time.
“Our fruit is not ripe in the Republican Party — our next generation is not ready yet,” Castellanos said. “It’s possible that the Republicans are still a cycle away.”
Nevertheless, Castellanos stressed that a well-run campaign is a defining factor in whether a candidate is elected or not, and thus a GOP victory is still possible. In an interview with the Daily Trojan after the event, Castellanos discussed how the New Republicans plan to convince young, Democratic voters to shift to the GOP.
“Republicans should do what Barack Obama promised and didn’t do — he said ‘we are the change we have been waiting for,’ but he didn’t mean that,” Castellanos said. “He meant more Washington is the change we have been waiting for. People don’t have more power, people don’t have more openness or choices — Washington has more money, power and choices. That won’t work.”
He explained that, more than anything else, young voters need a viable candidate come 2016.
“Our generation has f-cked your generation — you’re coming out of school, jobs are harder to find, you have a ton of student debt … Something’s got to change,” Castellanos said. “But it won’t unless we give you guys a better alternative than the one you have now.”