By Jesse Byrnes - 08/12/14 06:00 AM EDT
Uber, Lyft and Airbnb have become mascots for a Republican Party looking to promote a new brand of free market conservatism while making inroads with young voters.
Though the companies were engineered in the Democratic bastion of Silicon Valley, Republicans seeking to promote their party as freedom-loving and tech savvy are latching on to them.
“The issue is larger than Uber. How many companies, how many products, how many innovations have died prematurely because the government over-reached and interfered in the free market?” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wrote in a statement shared with The Hill.
Democrats are skeptical of the RNC’s push.
Michael Czin, a Democratic National Committee spokesman, called the RNC’s Uber push “pandering,” adding that the GOP is “struggling with young voters because they’re out of touch.”
Republicans have lost voters under 30 badly in the last two presidential elections.
In 2012, those under 30 – about a fifth of overall voters – picked President Obama over Mitt Romney by 60 percent to 36 percent, down from their support for Obama 66 percent to 32 percent in 2008, according to the Pew Research Center based on exit poll data.
That helps explain why Republicans are embracing new technologies used by young people.
Evan Feinberg, president of Generation Opportunity or GenOpp, an issue-based nonprofit that targets millennials, said people in that age group are early adopters of Uber and other technologies.
But he also said Uber and Lyft aren’t “new phenomena only to be used by young Americans.” Similarly, he said the concept is attractive to people of all political persuasions.
Uber itself doesn’t want to be seen as being in one political camp or the other.
Its East Coast regional general manager told The Wall Street Journal earlier this year she views Uber’s popularity as “bipartisan.” Asked about the RNC petition, Uber spokesman Lane Kasselman told The Hill, “Everyone loves Uber.”
The RNC last week launched a pro-free market, anti-government regulations petition to show support for the Uber — building their own lists and raising money in the process.
“Government has a role to play, but that role isn’t to protect the status quo. It should be consumers, not government bureaucrats or legislators, that decide what companies get our business,” Priebus said.
Priebus echoed that sentiment with an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, coordinated with the RNC’s annual summer meeting in that city, that lauded Uber-friendly Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner over Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
The RNC has sought to make its embrace of technology go well beyond Uber, too.
“This isn't just about Uber. It's about Lyft, Airbnb, Ebay, Amazon. It's about innovation. It's about saying that Washington and state capitals and government should get out of the way of innovation and job creation and let the market decide what goes on,” RNC Communication Director Sean Spicer said on CNBC's "Squawk Alley" last Thursday.
Uber, reportedly worth $18.2 billion, operates in 42 countries and dozens of U.S. cities. The taxi alternative has encountered much pushback in urban areas from labor unions and cab companies.
To use Uber, riders request a car using an app on their smartphone. During the ride, some drivers provide water, mints, candy and phone chargers, and afterward, travelers can comment and rate their drivers.
The service is not regulated by local taxi commissions, which has raised complaints about unfair competition from taxi cab drivers.
GOP users of the service say it fits nicely with their party’s core free-market values.
Derek Khanna, a 26-year-old former staffer with the House Republican Study Committee, remembers a cab driver pulling up to him at Baltimore Washington International Airport and asking if he was waiting for an Uber car.
“I'll tell you what — look it up and tell me the estimated fare. I'll beat it,” Khanna, a Yale Law School fellow, remembers the driver saying.
Khanna flipped out his phone and checked the estimated fare on his Uber app. The driver turned off his meter.
“I can't remember the last time I had a taxi driver negotiate,” Khanna said.