After Kanye West started tweeting last week that he and the president share “dragon energy,” and that “the thought police want to suppress freedom of thought,” some conservative pundits were quick to welcome West to the right. Ben Shapiro and Alex Jones, for example, tweeted back their praises, with Jones going so far as to extend Yeezy an invitation onto his infamous radio show. Other conservatives remarked that West was making conservatism hip again, and that his endorsement of “Make America Great Again” politics would somehow attract young voters familiar with the artist to the GOP.
But is the Chicagoland rapper even on the right, or does he merely agree with the President that some on the left sometimes disregard the first amendment and other essential liberties because it inconveniences them? Let us not forget that West is a man who, among other things, raps lines like, “Come and meet me in the bathroom stall, and show me why you deserve to have it all,” and who once hijacked a post-Hurricane Katrina TV fundraiser to embark on a diatribe about how he disapproved of the Bush administration. West’s behavior hardly fits into a party whose coalition is inseparable from evangelical Christians and the Bush family.
But West is not the only celebrity those on the right side of the aisle are crushing on. Roseanne Barr, the lead on ABC’s Roseanne, has garnered the support of conservatives even though she has said in the past that she believes that the Bush administration played a role in allowing the 9/11 attacks to happen, and that the Boston Marathon Bombings were a “false flag attack.”
West and the emergence of other celebrities who purport to be conservative have some in the GOP thinking that the “celebrification” of conservatism is the way for the Republican party to add millennials and Gen-Zers to its coalition. Additionally, these occurrences lead some to believe that in the age of social media, making conservatism “hip” is the way to expand their current majority. They couldn’t be more wrong. The support of one man, who seems to share nothing with the current leader of the GOP besides an affinity for Twitter and reality television will not win over young voters. Instead of focusing on celebrity, the GOP should be focused on policy.
Polling shows that younger voters, especially those in Gen Z, share character traits that align with the current GOP coalition. Eight out of 10 Gen-Zers call themselves “fiscally conservative.” Church attendance among Gen-Z is up 23 percent, and those under 22 are more risk–averse, as teen pregnancy and drug use have both dropped in recent years. One might think that the GOP should be doing extraordinarily well among these voters who value Judeo-Christian morals and fiscal responsibility. But they’re not — not because there are no celebrities on the right, but because of giant policy roadblocks.
Republicans’ abandonment of sustainable environmental policies and their overwhelming insistence to be behind the times on gay marriage are costing Republicans votes at an alarming rate. But there are ways to fit these two issues within GOP rhetoric, which would increase the size of the coalition backing the Republican platform. After all, the founder of the U.S. Forest Service was a Republican. The founder of the EPA: Republican. The administration that signed the Montreal Protocol: Republican. Therefore, promoting free-market policies to combat climate change and conserve natural resources are not ideas that are foreign to conservatism. In addition, the Republican Party is a party that prides itself on promoting liberty and creating strong communities. If the GOP truly believes in liberty, then the party shouldn’t care who people love. If the party truly thinks that strong communities and families are the foundation of our nation, should they really care about what kind of couples make up those families?
The way forward for the GOP is not to steer to the far-right, nor is the way forward to rely on so-called celebrities to spread the message of conservatism. The only way the party will replace its aging base is by making slight policy shifts to attract new voters who share values with those currently in the base but are hesitant to pull the lever because of a few wedge issues.
Conservatism has never been about celebrity and has never needed to be hip to win elections. GOP candidates have never needed catchy songs or the support of late night comics to win. All it has ever needed is common sense answers to their counterparts on the left. In adapting policies that appeal to young moderates and conservatives, Republicans can provide those answers.