What Young Republicans Have To Say About Their Party's Candidates

Jan 31, 2016
Originally published on February 1, 2016 5:48 am

Monday's Iowa caucuses are being billed, as they are every election season, as "a fight for the soul of the Party," both Democratic and Republican.

Yes, it's a worn-out cliché, but especially on the Republican side this year, it's a real battle.

For some insight into the race and the state of the GOP, we've turned to some young Republicans: Chelsi Henry, 27, was the youngest elected woman in the history of Jacksonville, Fla. Will Estrada, 32, works as an advocate for a home-schooling nonprofit in Northern Virginia. And Margaret Hoover, 38, is a political strategist and author whose great-grandfather was President Herbert Hoover.

We started with the man who's grown to dominate the GOP.


Interview Highlights

Will Estrada: Donald Trump talks a good talk but when you look at where he stands on, there's nothing to base it on. While I like that he's talking a conservative talk, I prefer candidates who have a background in it — there's evidence that you can look back and say they've fought, they've been in the trenches, they're trying to lower our taxes, reduce the size of the federal government rather than just say the right things. But he talks as a conservative and so you have the top two candidates in the polls both making a very strong push for the conservative movement as opposed to the establishment movement.

I actually must say, I'm very optimistic. As a young Republican, I think tomorrow Ted Cruz is gonna win Iowa. I think it's gonna basically deflate Donald Trump and I think this race – my crystal ball is a little foggy but I think it's gonna come down to the two Cubans, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and I think one of them will be our nominee this summer. And as a young, Latino conservative, I'm very, very excited about that.

Chelsi Henry: I think that Will made a great point in terms of Mr. Trump is and I think about this all the time, where does he really stand. I mean, he was a Democrat, now he's a Republican – which, that happens, but I think there's been many things that he's flip-flopped on and so I really wanna see someone who's gonna go in, stand to their platform, stand to their promises and most importantly stand to their values and implement those for all Americans. ...

Jeb Bush. I'm a Florida girl so I've seen how the policies and principles – from job creation to education – when it comes to looking at all areas of government, looking at all areas where there's need from criminal justice reform, education, health care, the policies that the governor has put out are ones that I support.

Margaret Hoover: I would say I was optimistic before Donald Trump got in. now that Trump's gotten in, and it is just Trump versus Cruz, the narrative, the tone, the quality of the conversations – we're not talking about policy, we're not talking about how to do the kinds of things that people like Paul Ryan are talking about: how to alleviate poverty, how is the Republican Party, the conservative movement going to make America better, fix sort of this economic stagnation that the middle class have been in for a decade or more? We're not talking about any of the real problems. This has just become a reality TV food fight that frankly, not only is not good for the country, it's really terrible for the Republican Party as well. So quite frankly, I'm hesitant to say, it's quite terrifying as a young Republican.

RM: Why is Donald Trump leading in the polls so dramatically then?

CH: He's the one that's saying, no more political correctness, I'm going to say what's on my mind, I'm a person just like you, I have these really strong feelings, that sometimes, those who are trying to be politically correct don't share. So I think just his style has allowed people to feel like, "Oh my gosh, we can take back control, of the government." But it doesn't address the policy concerns, that myself as a young African-American attorney, activist feels needs to be addressed.

MH: It's more than that though Chelsi ... We talk about and you're talking about the fight for the soul of the Republican Party. This is also the fight for the soul of the conservative movement in many ways because the conservative movement has counted on many of these individuals who are finding affinity with Trump. And you see National Review, the really primary publication of the really modern American conservative movement, coming out against Trump. But many of their readers are angry. Many of FOX News viewers are angry. They support Donald Trump. And what he's tapped into is an economic populism and what I think is really more of a European style xenophobic nationalism that is a very, very strong feeling out there and he's riding that wave.

RM: What do you think about the rhetoric surrounding immigration policies and the influx of Syrian refugees and some of the language and rhetoric that's been used by Ted Cruz and Donald Trump?

WE: As an evangelical Christian, we see in the bible that we're all created equal in the image of God and a lot of the rhetoric that is used in modern American politics detracts from that. We need to be caring for the poor and the vulnerable. ... But having said that it also starts with we've got to protect our citizens, we've got to protect men, women, children here in America. And I'm very concerned, Rachel, and I think a lot of Americans are concerned when we see young men of military age coming over from war-torn countries, who we don't know and we can't verify. I always think, what would happen – that movie Red Dawn that came out in the 80s – what would happen if our country were attacked? Would we be fleeing or would we be fighting for our country?

RM: But Red Dawn is a fictionalized account that stirs up fear and paranoia.

WE: It also, though, kind of strikes to the soul of what we've always said in America — that we will fight for our land. And I think a lot of Americans, myself included, are saying we should let the women and children in. But why are letting in people who should be fighting for their own country, frankly.

RM: Margaret, you've done a lot of work as an advocate for same sex marriage, worked to get pro-LGBT republicans elected to Congress. This is obviously still a very divisive issue in the GOP. Who's your candidate if that's an issue that's important to you, how does that weigh into your calculus when looking at the field?

MH: I believe that better government is less government. I also believe in equal opportunity as every American does. But I think that where we come down differently in terms of the political spectrum is, on the right we tend to think that the government's job is to stay out of the way and at the very minimum, enforce a level playing field to make sure that everybody does actually get a fair shot. And LGBT rights and freedoms is one area where government very clearly isn't giving Americans a fair shot because LGBT Americans don't have the same rights, they don't have all the same freedoms. Even post marriage, there are 30 states where you can just be fired for being gay, at cause. Nobody knows this. Republicans especially don't realize this. But there are Republicans who have taken strong positions on LGBT freedom. ...

I thought it was a great moment in one of the first debates where John Kasich came out and said I've been to a gay wedding and I was for traditional marriage but I went to a gay wedding and it reflected that people are open to changing and the Party isn't a Party of bigots. I mean, that has been the false caricature, I think.

RM: Explain what change, if any, you'd like to see in the GOP in the next few years?

WE: I would love to see us talking more about policy. We do a good job about it but we need to do it more. And I think it gets to what Chelsi said of reaching out into minority communities. They want strong families; they're pro-life, many of them in the Latino community. Many of the Islamic-American communities are again of a very strong, civil society and faith. And we need to go out and talk with them, we need to say the conservative, Republican message is one that empowers you — one that will protect you and your faith and your religious freedom and your family and your job and we need to go into these communities and just say you should be a Republican, you should vote with us because of these big policy issues.

CH: One, I think that we should hold true to our values and our principles. I am a Republican because of the values and principles of the Party align with my personal values. Yet, with that, I think that we have to be better messengers to all communities. We have to be better messengers of how our conservative policies will directly affect the lives of people when they're sitting down sat their kitchen table every month to pay bills, how it's going to affect their bottom line. And from that, I think we also have to grow in our diversity. So, my hope's, being optimistic because I happen to be a conservative, is that in 10 years we'll look around and those who are helping make decisions, those who are helping candidates get elected, they will be a diverse group of people who represent the demographics of America.

MH: I'd like for us to be a Party that's known for standing what we are for — not what we're against. And this is I think what Paul Ryan and the speakership is trying to do, is set an agenda of what we're for so the country knows that the Republican Party is for. Nikki Haley is trying to do this too. We are for a stable Middle East, we are for a free-market health care system, we are for social mobility and getting people out of poverty. And people will know how we're for those things. And I think as young Republicans, the principles are there, but we need to adjust them and message them in order to really connect to a new generation.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For The Record today, that was Sara Weaver. She was 16 years old when her family was locked in the standoff with federal authorities at Ruby Ridge in 1992. We also heard from Arthur Roderick, one of the U.S. marshals who was there and journalist Jess Walter who covered the story at the time for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC).

MARTIN: Tomorrow's Iowa caucuses are being billed as they are every year, as a fight for the soul of the party. Democratic or Republican, pick your poison. Yes, it's a cliche. But especially on the Republican side this year, it is a real battle. For some insight into the race and the Grand Old Party, we gathered some Republicans.

Chelsi is 27 years old and was the youngest elected woman in the history of Jacksonville, Fla. Margaret Hoover is a political strategist and author whose great-grandfather was President Herbert Hoover. She's 38. And 32-year-old Will Estrada works as an advocate for a homeschooling nonprofit in Northern Virginia. And we started, as you have to, with a man who's currently dominating the GOP.

WILL ESTRADA: Donald Trump talks a good talk, but when you look at where he stands on, there's nothing to base it on. While I like that he's talking a conservative talk, I prefer candidates who have a, you know, a background in it, that there's evidence that you can look back and say they fought. They've been in the trenches. They've been trying to lower our taxes, reduce the size of government rather than just saying the right things. But he talks as a conservative. And so you have the top two candidates in the polls both making a very strong push for the conservative movement as opposed to the establishment movement.

MARTIN: Chelsi, Margaret, you want to chime in?

CHELSI HENRY: I think that Will made a great point in terms of Mr. Trump is - and I think about this all the time. Where does he really stand? I mean, he was a Democrat, and now he's a Republican, which that happens, but there's just been many things that he's flip-flopped on. And so, I really want to see someone who's going to go in, stand to their platform, stand to their promises and most importantly, stand to their values and implement those for all Americans.

MARTIN: Who is that? Who do you like, Chelsi?

HENRY: Jeb Bush. I'm a Florida girl and so I've seen how the policies and principles from job creation to education - when it comes to looking at all areas of government, looking at all areas where there's need, from criminal justice reform, you know, education, health care. The policies that the governor has put out are ones that I support.

MARTIN: How do you see what's happening, Margaret, in the party and this primary race?

MARGARET HOOVER: I would say I was optimistic before Donald Trump got in. Now that Trump has gotten in - and it is just Trump versus Cruz - the narrative, the tone, the quality of the conversations, we're not talking about policy. We're not talking about how to do the kinds of things that people like Paul Ryan are talking about - how to alleviate poverty, how is the Republican Party - the conservative movement - how is it going to make America better, fix sort of this economic stagnation the middle class has been in for a decade or more? We're not talking about any of the real problems. This has just become a reality TV food fight that, frankly, not only is not good for the country, it's really terrible for the Republican Party as well. So quite frankly, I'm hesitant to say it's terrifying as a young Republican.

MARTIN: Those are strong words. Will, Chelsi, do you share that sentiment?

ESTRADA: I actually must say I'm very optimistic. As a young Republican, you know, I think tomorrow Ted Cruz is going to win Iowa. I think it's going to basically deflate Donald Trump, and I think this race - you know, my crystal ball is a little foggy. But I think it's going to come down to the two Cubans, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and I think one of them will be our nominee this coming summer. And as young Latino conservative, I'm very, very excited about that.

MARTIN: But, and I'll put this to Chelsi, why is Donald Trump leading in the polls so dramatically then?

HENRY: He is the person that's saying no more political correctness. I'm going to say what's on my mind. I'm a person just like you. I have these really strong feelings that sometimes those who are trying to be politically correct don't share. And so I think just his style has allowed some people to feel like oh, my gosh. We can take back control of the government. But it doesn't address the policy concerns that myself, as a young African-American attorney, activist, feels needs to be addressed.

HOOVER: It's more than that though, Chelsi. This is Margaret, Rachel. I - you know, we talk about - and you're talking about the fight for the soul of the Republican Party. This is also the fight for the soul of the conservative movement in many ways because the conservative movement has counted on many of these individuals who are finding affinity with Trump. And you see National Review, the really primary publication of the modern American conservative movement coming out against Trump, but many of their readers are angry. Many of Fox News's viewers are angry. They support Donald Trump, and what he's tapped into is an economic populism and what I think is more of a European style xenophobic nationalism. That is a very, very strong feeling out there, and he's riding that wave.

MARTIN: And let me ask you, Will. I read in your bio that you serve on the board of a nonprofit that helps refugees in Thailand. What do you think about the rhetoric surrounding immigration policies and the influx of Syrian refugees and some of the language and rhetoric that's been used by Ted Cruz and Donald Trump?

ESTRADA: You know, Rachel, as an evangelical Christian, we see in the Bible that we're all created in the image of God, and a lot of the rhetoric that is used in modern American politics detracts from that. We need to be caring for the poor and the vulnerable.

MARTIN: So what do you make of Donald Trump's call to ban all Syrian refugees?

ESTRADA: But having said that, you know, it also starts with we have to protect our citizens. We have to protect the men, women and children here in America. And I'm very concerned, Rachel, and I share - and a lot of Americans, I think, are concerned when we see young men of military age coming over from war-torn countries who we don't know and we can't verify. I always think, you know, what would happen - that movie "Red Dawn" that came out in the '80s - what would happen if our country were attacked? Would we be fleeing, or would we be fighting for our country? And so I think, you know...

MARTIN: But "Red Dawn" is - it's a fictionalized - it's a...

ESTRADA: It's a fictionalized account.

MARTIN: ...A movie that stirs up fear and paranoia.

ESTRADA: It also, though, kind of strikes to the soul of, you know, what we've always said in America that we will fight for our land. And I think a lot of Americans, myself including, are saying we should let the women and children in. But why are we letting in people who should be fighting (laughter) for their own country, frankly?

MARTIN: Margaret, you've done a lot of work as an advocate for same-sex marriage, work to get pro-LGBT Republicans elected to Congress. This is obviously still a very divisive issue within the GOP. Who's your candidate if that's an issue that's important to you? How does that weigh into your calculus when looking at the field?

HOOVER: I believe that better government is government. I also believe in equal opportunity, as every American does. But I think where we come down differently in terms of the political spectrum is on the right, we tend to think that the government's job is to stay out of the way and at the very minimum, just enforce a level playing field to make sure that everybody does actually get a fair shot. And LGBT rights and freedoms is one area where the government very clearly isn't giving Americans a fair shot because LGBT Americans don't have the same rights, and they don't have all the same freedoms. Even post-marriage, there are 30 states where you can just be fired for being gay at cause. Nobody knows this. Republicans especially don't realize this. But you know, there are Americans who are Republicans who have taken strong positions on LGBT freedom.

MARTIN: None of them are running for president though.

HOOVER: Well - so listen, I mean, I thought it was a great moment in one of the first debates where John Kasich came out and said I've been to a gay wedding. And I was there the other day, and you know, I was for traditional marriage. But I went to a gay wedding, and it reflected that people are open to changing and that the party isn't a party of bigots. I mean, that has been the false caricature, I think.

MARTIN: I'll close by asking a big question and demanding much of you in answering it. But I will ask each of you to just, kind of in a few words, explain what change, if any, you would like to see in the GOP in the next few years. By the time the next presidential election rolls around, is there a change you would like to see, Chelsi?

HENRY: One, I think that we should hold true to our values and our principles. You know, I am a Republican because the values and principles of the party align with my personal values, yet with that, I think that we have to be better messengers to all communities. We have to be better messengers of how our conservative policies will directly affect the lives of people, when they're sitting down at their kitchen table every month to pay bills, how it's going to affect their bottom line. And from that, I think that we also have to grow in our diversity so my hope's, being optimistic because I happen to be a conservative, is that in 10 years, we'll look around and those who are helping make decisions, those who are helping the candidates get elected, they will be a diverse group of people who will represent the demographics of America.

MARTIN: Will.

ESTRADA: I would love to see us talking more about policy. We do a good job about it, but we need to do it more. And I think it gets to what Chelsi said of reaching out into minority communities. They want strong families. They're pro-life, many of them in the Latino community. Many of the Islamic-American communities are, again, very strong civil society and faith, and we need to go out and talk with them. We need to say the conservative Republican message is one that empowers you, one that will protect you and your faith and your religious freedom and your family and your job. And we need to go into these communities and just say you should be a Republican. You should vote with us because of these big policy issues.

MARTIN: And I'll close with Margaret.

HOOVER: I'd like for us to be a party that's known for standing for what we are for, not what we're against. And this is, I think, what Paul Ryan and the speakership is trying to do, is set an agenda of what we're for so the country knows what the Republican Party is for. Nikki Haley is trying to do this too. We are for a stable Middle East. We are for a free market health care system. We are for social mobility and getting people out of poverty. And people will know how we're for those things. And I think as young Republicans, the principles are there, but we need to adjust them and message them in order to really connect to a new generation.

MARTIN: Margaret Hoover, Chelsi Henry and Will Estrada.

Thanks so much for talking with us, you three.

HOOVER: Rachel, thank you.

ESTRADA: Thank you for having us, Rachel.

HENRY: Thanks for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.