What Ron Paul can teach Republicans about millennials
© Greg Nash

The first presidential rally I ever attended was in New Hampshire during Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. I’ll never forget walking into a jam-packed auditorium full of 20-somethings gripping Paul signs and chanting “REVOLUTION!” The energy in the room was electric, and the passion was contagious. When Paul, then 77, finally walked out on the stage, the cheers were deafening — it was as if a rock star had entered the room.

To this day, I’ve never seen anything like that at a GOP event.  

The 2016 presidential race has been depressing for millennials, who overwhelmingly don’t like either Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDem senator: Pardoning targets of Russia probe would be 'crossing a fundamental line' Trump lawyers looking into special counsel's potential conflicts of interest: reports Trump lawyers asking about presidential pardon powers: report MORE or Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDem senator: Pardoning targets of Russia probe would be 'crossing a fundamental line' Trump officials: Russia meddled in the election Trump lawyers asking about presidential pardon powers: report MORE. More than half of young voters are so disillusioned they won’t even show up to vote in November.  

In recent memory, Democrats including President Obama and Bernie SandersBernie SandersOPINION | Shailene Woodley: US should run on renewable energy by 2050 Gore: Progressive ideas 'gaining ground' among Democrats The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE successfully tapped into the massive youth vote. But only one Republican has excited millennials: Ron Paul. During the 2012 GOP primary, the Texas congressman won big with young voters until he stopped campaigning.

Paul is an anomaly in the GOP.

Republicans have struggled to appeal to millennials, 61 percent of whom currently have a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of Trump. The 2012 and 2008 general elections were no better; GOP nominees Mitt Romney and John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Trump gets briefing at Pentagon on ISIS, Afghanistan | Senate panel approves five defense picks | Senators want Syria study in defense bill Schwarzenegger tweets to McCain: 'You'll be back' Trump called McCain to wish him well after cancer diagnosis MORE received 28 percent and 29 percent of the youth vote, respectively.

So what was it about Paul that made him so damn appealing to young people? Trump and other Republicans should take note:  

He’s authentic.

Authenticity — or at least the appearance of authenticity — is arguably the most important factor when it comes to millennials. Voters are sick of hearing politicians read scripted speeches from teleprompters.

When Paul says something, no one questions whether or not he’s being genuine. Probably because he’s touted the same fundamental beliefs during the entire span of his 37-year career in politics, never wavering. This reliability creates a “realness” that goes a long way with young people — they can smell it career politicians are lying to their faces just to get votes.

He’s principled.

Both Trump and Clinton have been caught flip-flopping on numerous critical issues from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal to abortion rights to gay marriage. But Paul sticks to his core values and consistently acted on his strong beliefs. Known as “Dr. No” in the House, Paul could be counted on the vote against virtually every piece of legislation that came before Congress.

During the current election, he has openly criticized Trump, Clinton and even libertarian candidate Gary JohnsonGary JohnsonMueller to give first speech since taking on Russia probe Poll: 85 percent of Clinton supporters would vote for her again Open primaries are the answer to America’s election woes — so what are we waiting for? MORE. Johnson “does not come across with a crisp libertarian message,” Paul said. Back in 2012, Paul never endorsed Romney after he suspended his own campaign. Why? Because throwing his support behind Romney would “undo everything I’ve done in the last 30 years. I don’t fully endorse him for president.” For Paul, politics has always been about ideas, not about parties. This is a man who truly cares about making government more accountable.

He’s humble.

Voters are tired of the political class living like kings and queens while the general public is struggling to stay afloat amid a sluggish economy. There is little humility to be found in 2016: Clinton, a lifelong bureaucrat, lives in a $2.8 million compound in Chappaqua, N.Y. She hasn’t even driven a car since 1996 and wears Armani jackets worth $12,000. And of course Trump is a flamboyant millionaire, whose name is sprawled in gold across New York City.  

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being rich or enjoying your own money. But it’s surprisingly refreshing when a politician lives a life more comparable to the average U.S. resident. Paul listed his family home in Lake Jackson, Texas, on the market for just $325,000. He could probably afford to live a life of leisure, but chooses not to. There’s something to be said for that.

He thinks beyond the two-party system.

A large majority of young Americans are disenchanted with the two-party system and say the Republican and Democratic parties don’t represent them. The generation has grown wary of politicians who answer directly to parties instead of the voters.

Paul has run as a libertarian and a Republican, but has also supported progressive liberal candidates. He is truly an independent thinker who has tapped into the modern sensibilities of millennials who aren’t as likely to fall in line with a party.

Millennials could make up November’s largest voting bloc and have become a force to be reckoned with. If the GOP continues to ignore these voters, it will suffer a slow and painful death.

Ron Paul proved that Republicans can appeal to young people. The GOP must take notes and learn from him — the future of conservatism may depend on it.

Kristin Tate is a conservative columnist and author of the book "Government Gone Wild: How D.C. Politicians Are Taking You For a Ride And What You Can Do About It."
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