Dana Perino talks with College Republicans’ Alexandra Smith about ‘Growing Up GOP’

Editor’s note: Dana Perino recently sat down with Alexandra Smith, National Chairwoman of the College Republican National Committee, to talk with her about her team’s newly released report, Growing Up GOP.

1. DP: What did you want to learn when you came up with the report, Growing Up GOP? And what surprised you the most?

AS: What we were hoping to gain from this project is a broad understanding of what young voters want from candidates and political parties in the upcoming election. Young voters decided the presidential election in 2012, and will be key to determining the outcome of the 2016 race, so it is of critical importance that our candidates figure this out. What surprised me – but dismayed me – the most was millennials’ belief that luck rather than hard work are how people succeed in America today. What a stunning indictment of both the Democrats’ old, top-down approach that concentrates power in Washington, and Republicans’ failure to make this known.

2. DP: Has the Republican Party failed in reaching millennials?

AS: Yes, and everyone is to blame. When young voters make up nearly a fifth of the electorate, and have the political power to reverse the decision the rest of the country makes in an election, but our dollars and time are still spent away from campuses and online media.

3.DP: How do conservative principals meet millennial goals, if at all? Where do their values match?

AS: “…and the good news is,” after all of the talk about our failures as a Party, we win in the most critical way: our principles! Everything that works for a millennial – the way we learn, shop, communicate, and interact with each other – depends on bottom-up, free market principles to succeed. The Democrats’ old, factory-style way of governing is fundamentally at odds with the kind of freedoms a young person today demands.

4. DP: Millennials communicate and consume news differently than any other generation. How can the GOP adapt so that they’re at least on the radar screen?  And is there anyone you think does it well?

AS: The first step is showing up to where young voters are. If you make a call to a landline phone, place an ad on live television, or send a letter to a mailbox, you’re not reaching a younger person. I do think, however, most Republicans are coming to to this realization. But it’s only half the battle. If, for instance, you make it as far as placing an ad on Spotify, simply running the same ad you were going to run on television isn’t going to cut it. This generation values authenticity more than anything, so those dark and stormy ads don’t really pass the test with them. They’ll just take out their headphones and wait for the music to come back on. So, the second step is speaking to them in a way that’s relevant to them. Freedom is present in everything we do as a generation, but we just don’t use the language of the Greatest Generation to describe it. Finding lighthearted ways to connect, or metaphors that describe how open systems empower us to make our own choices is crucial.

5. DP: As a millennial, why are you a Republican – did you always know that you were conservative or was it a gradual realization?

AS: Growing up, I was just fascinated by politics – period. Any chance I had to watch “Meet the Press” or listen to talk radio, I did. My parents were news junkies and were good about keeping interesting books around. They’re conservative, but they always forced me to defend my positions and explain my conclusions. So, I’d say it was a gradual realization, but one rooted in careful study and conversation.

6. DP: Based on conversations you have had with your friends, and your own personal experiences, what do you see as the greatest challenge the Republican Party faces in their attempt to gain millennial support?

AS: I’d say that it’s the same issue that was raised in our report: the perception that we are unkind. Young voters are starved for an alternative, and they largely agree with our principles, but in our absence with these voters, we’ve allowed Democrats to come in and tell them that we don’t care about people like them. That doesn’t mean compromising what we believe in; that means showing up, starting a conversation, and showing them that our principles have lifted more people out of poverty and oppression – more than any other set of governing principles throughout time.

7. DP: Time for the lightning round:

a. Which social media platform do you visit the most daily: Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?

I use all four of those almost equally!

b. Where do you go to get your news?

Twitter and Fox News.

c. What is your differential in your percentage of news consumption on social media vs. via online news publications?

Roughly equal.

d. What is your favorite iPhone App?


e. If you could only use one social media platform and delete the rest, which one would it be?

For work, I’d say Twitter, because I like having a constant stream of news and commentary when I’m on the go.Personally, I love Instagram – and particularly the “Explore” option – because one moment you could be looking at a press conference and the next be mesmerized by someone decorating a cake.  

Dana Perino currently serves as co-host of FOX News Channel’s “The Five” (weekdays 5-6PM/ET). She previously served as Press Secretary for President George W. Bush. She is the author of the new book “And the Good News Is…: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side” (Twelve, April 21, 2015). Ms. Perino joined the network in 2009 as a contributor. Click here for more information on Dana Perino. Follow her on Twitter@DanaPerino.

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