Republicans, Don't Cede Millennials to Democrats Just Yet

Obama's victory was the end for the GOP, but they can still win the youth vote

July 15, 2013 -- In the aftermath of President Obama's 2012 victory, conventional political wisdom all held in some form or fashion that the Republican Party was beginning its siren song. Sinking under the weight of outdated ideas, unable to compete technologically and held in place by a raucous base that was out of touch with the changing electorate, President Obama's victory signified the beginning of the end for the Grand Old Party.

Yet to accept this line of thinking as fact is to ignore a fundamental reality of politics, as expressed so eloquently by James Carville: "It's the Economy, Stupid." The reality is: young voters captured by Democrats in the Obama victories face a crushing fiscal combination of high student loan debt, a demoralizing job market and the continued growing pains of ObamaCare – ensuring that it's not too late for Republicans, provided they can rise to the occasion.

For college students electrified by the idealism in the President's campaign rhetoric, reality has become a tough pill to swallow. According to the Project on Student Debt, students graduating in the class of 2011 carried an average of more than $27,000 in debt; this is coupled with a stubbornly slow economy, particularly at entry level. More recently, Senate Democrats, eager to play politics with the issue, slow-walked a solution to the planned increase in student loan rates despite House Republicans passing legislation that nearly mirrored the solution called for in President Obama's budget. The slow-walk backfired, disillusioning a group of voters Democrats are confident will remain in the fold.

Moreover, as Northeastern University Economist Andrew Sum recently pointed out, young workers and new graduates find themselves caught in a difficult job cycle. With baby boomers working later in life and employers able to find willing populations of older workers for even menial jobs, middle and lower class students and graduates have been unable begin their careers – setting their progress back all the more.

Additionally, voters were treated to another canary in the coal mine when the Obama administration was forced to delay implementation of the employer mandate – a key portion of the law that indicates the monumental difficulty faced with its implementation. More importantly, young workers are only beginning to realize they will shoulder a large part of the cost – even if they are healthy--to support the aging baby boomer generation. The Heritage Foundation took a look at this dynamic, termed, "age rating" and found that, "the effect will be to increase premiums for those ages 18–24 by 45 percent and those ages 25–29 by 35 percent while decreasing premiums for those ages 55–59 by 12 percent and those ages 60–64 by 13 percent."

There is a certain irony that the Affordable Care Act is responsible for reducing the number of full time jobs available to our younger work force. Once the employer mandate is put in place, tens of thousands of employers who are facing skyrocketing health care costs may reduce the number of full-time positions to avoid paying massive increases in health insurance. As a result, instead of finding good full-time jobs with benefits, our younger workers are competing for lesser-paying, less-attractive, part-time positions that offer no health care coverage. Young voters will soon begin to understand that their support of the president and his party, rather than improving their lives, has actually impeded their progress.

As this economic picture comes into view – fewer jobs for younger voters, crushing student loan debt exacerbated by ham-handed political gestures and greater costs for an unworkable health care system – the GOP still has an opportunity to overcome its inherent challenges and make decisive gains among these voters. However, it will require a top-down commitment to another idea that seems to have been forgotten lately – rediscovering itself as the party of ideas and innovation.

In the same manner that groups like The Heritage Foundation provided the intellectual and policy basis for an incoming generation of Reagan conservatives, the GOP must begin directing some of its energies away from just winning the political and messaging battle and toward finding solutions to health care, generational debt, entitlement programs and other issues that will not just resurrect that time-tested warhorses of policy battles long past, but earnestly seek to develop answers for this generation. These contributions cannot come from one sect however – it will take a concerted effort from both movement conservatives and establishment Republicans.

Both grassroots and the donor class should find practical solutions and then actively mentor the best and the brightest young minds to help solve the issues that will face Millennials and those who follow them.

There is still time for the Grand Old Party to offer young Obama voters solutions to the unique financial difficulties hampering their launch into the real world. However, without a serious commitment to crafting new policy ideas, Republicans will find that their ideas of a shining city on a hill have faded into sunset.

Opinions expressed in this piece are those of Joe Brettell and are not endorsed by ABC News.

Joe Brettell is a former Capitol Hill aide and GOP strategist. On Twitter at @joebrettell