Donald Trump's youth problem could cost him the election

Biden is struggling to secure the youth vote, too
Biden is struggling to secure the youth vote, too - Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters
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The horse race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, absent handcuffs and bullets, will yield the result we all know it will: Donald Trump leading the ticket. So, naturally, the conversation has centered on the less obvious question of who Trump will pick as his running mate.

The former president has treated the veepstakes as what he has grown up loving: pageants. All the likely running mates seem to be showcasing their skills, both on TV and in the campaign trail. Yet sooner rather than later, Trump will have to give someone the crown. Who might that be?

Answering this question has led to great speculation, with the usual arguments for a moderating force filling the role, as well as those calling for a popular figure from a swing state, a woman, or a fierce loyalist who won’t sidestep the president à la Mike Pence. Aside from all these, though, one factor that the president must not overlook is appealing to the youth.

Generation Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, account for about twenty percent of the US’s population. There are more of us than there are Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. Furthermore, in 2016 most of us couldn’t vote, in 2020 our turnout beat records, and in 2024 more than half of us will be eligible to vote. Aside from this demographic reality being one that Republican strategists should not ignore, it is also important to note that my generation is not the impenetrable market some older Republicans believe.

A recent survey released by the Harvard Kennedy School indicates that only 35 percent of young Americans approve of Biden’s performance as president. Even more so, despite the overbearing voices of progressive youth, a recent Monitoring the Future survey suggests that young men, specifically, are trending conservative. If that weren’t enough, following the midterms, a Walton Family Foundation survey also showed that just 30 percent of Zoomers said they aligned with Democrats while 24 percent with Republicans.

Does all this data translate into a pro-Trump wave? No. What it does mean for Republicans is that there is a market to exploit, both by using targeted negative ads to keep enthusiasm for Biden low, and by actually attempting to illustrate a series of Gen Z-specific priorities.

For all of the whining about how Democrats have captured the youth, the truth is that it is not only a mediocre simplification, but also Republicans have no reasons to complain when they haven’t taken us seriously.

Aside from Vivek Ramaswamy’s insistence on speaking directly to us on the platforms where we are a dominating force, like TikTok, Republicans have grown comfortable relying on Fox News and other traditional means of outreach. Even if the idea of spending resources on TikTok strikes a nerve, look no further than Snapchat, an app with more than 400 million users where half of its users are under the age of 25. In the 2022 midterms, the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent a mere $4,600 in political ads on the platform. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dropped over $64,000.

This disparity in spending – and perceived care – should change. And this is where picking a running mate who can fixate on targeting the youth may start to make a difference.

Following the former president’s comments on liking “the concept” of running with a woman, the theory for going for a female was what kept the media busy. There was his challenger Nikki Haley but Trump already ruled her out. There was Arkansas governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, with her southern appeal and reputation as a fierce Trump defender, but she hinted that she wasn’t interested in being vetted for the role. There was South Dakota governor Kristi Noem but a cheating scandal is set to complicate her selection. And more recently, after her performance questioning Ivy League presidents on antisemitism, the chairwoman of the House Republican House Conference Elise Stefanik has reportedly made herself into the shortlist.

Stefanik checks almost all the boxes (if only she were from a swing state!), yet before settling on her, Trump should be thinking about Gen Z – not just about women in the suburbs or political moderates. And when it comes to my generation, there is one guy that has proven to be a great asset.

Although not delivering a surprise blow in the Iowa Caucuses, a close look into the exit polls reveals that Ramaswamy came four percentage points away from Nikki Haley among those aged 17 to 29. Let’s remember, Ramaswamy was a stranger for most, but with younger voters, the data suggests that he performed more than five times better when compared to those older than 65.

Of course, Iowa isn’t the entire country and there are other considerations Trump should have in mind before giving Ramaswamy the job. Still, what the Ramaswamy effect should definitely teach Trump is that in selecting a running mate, he should pick someone who will not shy away from the podcasting, the Snapchatting, and maybe even the TikToking.

Maybe Stefanik, populist Ohio Senator JD Vance or soft-spoken Ben Carson could replicate Ramaswamy-like messaging. Still, it is difficult to think of anyone who can do the shtick better than Ramaswamy himself. And, to use some of Trump’s favorite words, “many people are saying this.” In fact, during an appearance on the Patrick Bet-David (PBD) podcast, TheBlaze founder Glenn Beck revealed that he told Trump to pick Ramaswamy, to which Trump  responded: “That’s the No. 1 response from everybody I’ve asked that question.”

Is Trump taking his interlocutors seriously? Who knows. But the case for picking Ramaswamy has its logic and people close to him are bringing him up. Either way, even if it ends up not being him, Trump’s running mate must energetically target Gen Z voters like Ramaswamy did. Maybe that’ll help fight the much-anticipated (and irrationally feared) Swiftie wave.

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