BY ANDY KROLL
Daily News Editor
Published September 1, 2008
St. PAUL, Minn. (UWIRE) — As tens of thousands of Republicans descend on St. Paul and Minneapolis for the Republican National Convention, before them lies a week of speeches, lavish corporate parties, star-studded panels and otherwise nonstop revelry.
But as these loyal Republicans celebrate all that is great about their beloved Party, they will also get a first-hand glimpse of the new divide growing within the Grand Ole Party.
On the one hand, there is the familiar old guard — the "country club" Republicans, clad in blue blazers, khaki pants and tasseled loafers, small golden elephants pinned to their lapels. These are the Party faithfuls who once dominated the ranks of the Republican Party.
Now, however, with the Bush Administration headed for the exits, a new, youth-driven GOP is poised to take control of the ailing Republican brand — a brand Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) bemoaned was “in the trash can” — and hopes to remake it to tackle the issues facing young Americans.
Upgrading the party of dial-up
Soren Dayton, co-founder of the popular blog The Next Right, is a driving force within this resurgent Republican movement.
Dayton, along with fellow bloggers Jon Henke and Patrick Ruffini, created The Next Right because of his dissatisfaction with the conservative media and what he calls its lack of real reporting.
"The conservative media for a variety of reasons is focused on opinions more than facts," Dayton explained. "And what I mean by that is the people that head the conservative magazines and stuff like that are opinion writers."
The goal of The Next Right, he continued, is to provide that in-depth research and factual information for conservatives, with the hope that they will "convert facts into activism and what people should do in the world."
Dayton also believes the GOP as a whole needs to be brought up to speed in the new technologies used in political organizing — an upgrade he said is clearest seen on many college campuses across the country.
At the same time, though, Dayton doesn't want the GOP's tech-savvy youth core to lose the old guard's ability to harness its energy to win political elections small and large.
Dayton sees The Next Right as a balancing force between these two priorities.
He said that what the Republican Party needs is an information exchange between the election-savvy upper rungs of the GOP leadership and cutting-edge grassroots organizers — and he hopes The Next Right can be the forum or site of that exchange.
"The technology needs to go up into the Party apparatus, and at the same time we need to learn down how to put priorities on winning elections," he said. "There's a juncture there between those two — we're trying to be that juncture."
Reclaiming their roots
For true Republicans, the last eight years of the Bush Administration have discredited the Republican name and, even worse, misrepresented the Party's ideologies and positions.
The new GOP — or, as young conservative journalist Ross Douthat puts it, the "Grand New Party" — seeks to restore those fundamental conservatives' beliefs to the center of a Republican Party that has as of late strayed far from its home.
"The problem," said Charlie Smith, president of the College Republicans national organization, "is that the 'current Republican Party,' the party of the past few years, has been inaccurately labeled and branded by the mistakes of a few of our party members."
Under his direction, Smith said, the College Republicans have sought to renew young people's commitment to the pillars of Republicanism — limited government, strong national security policies and unfettered free markets.
"I think that the role that the College Republicans can play is as we, the people in our generation, become the leaders of the [Republican] Party in the next few years, we really need to remind people what the Republican Party is all about."
Likewise, The Next Right's Patrick Ruffini recently emphasized that Republican values like federalism, limited government and free markets "are the unifying ideals that can revitalize the Republican Party."
And although an embrace of the principles of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan may seem, well, a bit old school, Smith said he believes old-school Republicanism can still solve modern day problems.
"We can take those conservative principles, those Republican principles, and apply them to issues like the energy crisis, apply them to the war on terrorism," he insisted.
A more dynamic GOP
While almost every Republican supports free markets and limiting the reach of the federal government, the young faces of the new GOP also seek to widen the definition of who Republicans are.
The best example of these new influences within GOP are the Hip-Hop Republicans.
A self-described avant-garde movement with the Republican Party, the Hip-Hop Republicans don't necessarily consider themselves part of Black Republicanism.
"If Black Republicanism is about assimilating into old-school GOP culture," said co-founder Lenny McAllister, "then Hip-Hop Republicanism is about changing GOP culture to look, feel and sound more like us."
A glimpse at the group's ideologies reveals a set of beliefs both aligned and at odds with what's considered the traditional GOP party line.
For instance, the group wholeheartedly believes in free markets. According to McAllister, "competition, the prime motivator in a free market, will force change and progress. Either bad schools will improve or they will be forced to close."
However, McAllister also calls for vastly increased attention paid to urban centers, saying that "We must invest time and money into our communities to become stronger" — even though such investments in urban areas are infrequent in the GOP's history.
But what's most important about the Hip-Hop Republicans, McAllister said, is that young people are the ones espousing these new Republican ideas; they are the ones at the cutting edge of the Republican Party.
"It's going to take a younger generation to say, 'Look, we're more like you than we are different. We have conservative values but we still believe affirmative action. We want less Band-Aids and more healing,'" he said.
A group like the Hip-Hop Republicans will no doubt disagree with the broader party on some issues.
But young Republican leaders like Smith say this greater diversity of ideas will help to grow the Party's ranks among the young politicians, organizers and activists — the very people who represent the GOP's future.
"As we move into this next generation of voters, what we really need to be expressing to them is that Republican coalition is broad, all-encompassing," he said. "We want people to come into the Party and know that it's not an exclusive club by any means, but a party that represents people with a broad range of views."