Young and Republican

It’s funny. I never considered myself to be a Republican. I’m actually a registered Independent. But, after spending a long time as the political girl without a party, I am starting to ask myself why I have not joined one.

That’s because I would join the Republican one. As a 21-year-old college student in Washington, DC, Republican isn’t just a bad word, it’s a polarizing one. “Republican” is like a road block: people see it, but they are too frustrated to understand the reasons behind it. My fear of committing to the word has nothing to do with the party, it has to do with the way the party is perceived and the way people in it are stereotyped. I do not want to label myself if the label is a bad one.

Among many of my peers, Republicans are stereotyped, and they are unliked as people as much as their policies are unliked. There’s truth to that perception because demographically, they are older, they are whiter, and they are richer. For a young woman paying her own way through college, it is difficult to see myself in that stereotype.

Some of the hostility is because Democrats have better messaging. They even have Hollywood. Republican stereotypes say, “I hate minorities, transgender people, the black community, homeless people, and feminists.” It would mean I want less government and more guns; that I want the government to hold religion over individual rights; that I want to increase military spending and even have a military parade. That’s the what critics assume.

That stereotype of Republicans does not represent who I am at all. My freshman year of college when I was the class representative for College Republicans, I was also the treasurer of CUAllies, an unrecognized LGBT group on Catholic University’s campus. As I was walking to my Republican internships on the Hill, I was smiling at homeless people and eventually handing them soft granola bars. Right before I started interning for Fox News I went on a trip to Camden, New Jersey and learned the difference policy can make in people’s lives and the importance of raising awareness through telling people’s stories. Attending the Women’s March in 2017 is one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of. All these things make me who I am. Could someone like me be a Republican?

As you can tell, I have always had a difficult time saying I am a Republican. In fact, I have never said those words out loud. For young women it is a word that can change friendships. It is a confusing label because many people believe that a Republican cannot be a feminist, even though I know young Republican women are the definition of feminists. Women like Congresswomen Elise Stefanik and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have shattered glass ceilings and opened the doors for younger women to follow in their footsteps.

I am not alone. Of millennial women registered to vote, 36% are Independents, 18% are Republicans, and 43% are Democrats. I wonder how many of those Independent women would be Republican, and if they are Independent because they do not want to commit to a party or because they are truly centrist on every single issue. What if, like me, other young women do not want to shut down the other side of the debate or join the party of the ‘old boys’ club’?

Republican women are the minority among millennials. Their unpopular views are constantly questioned with a certain passion people would not question about their own side. Unlike other older Republicans, young members of the party are in constant contact with people who have different views than themselves. For Republicans in college, it is impossible to only speak to Republicans.

Sitting in class one day a classmate asked me if I interned for Fox News. I said ‘yes’ and tried to explain to her what I did because it was exciting. In my time at Fox I was learning how to tell accurate stories, making sure my quotes were surrounded by context. Her boyfriend then cut me off and asked me why I was interning for Fox. They asked me if I voted for Trump and why. They asked me if my family did. When I gave them an answer that satisfied them, they went back to asking how I could work at a place like Fox. It was an intense interview that I was not prepared for as the professor began to write on the chalk board. But it is something that happens often (I must point out that the audience of Fox News is as much to the right as The Washington Post’s is to the left).

Even people on the right are skeptical about Republican women. It is not uncommon for Republican women running for office to lose in primaries because the base does not see them as being enough to the right. There is more focus on their stances on abortion and other so-called “women’s issues”. It is easier for a man to run a campaign focused on fixing the economy than it is for a woman.

It took a few years for me to realize that just because my political opinions are moderate does not mean they are weak. Often in debates, I find myself understanding the other points of view. If I am having a conversation with two people I often am the one in between them, turning my head back and forth wondering why they do not understand where the other is coming from. Then, I say something about it and the one on the left sees me as an opponent but the one on the right doesn’t see me as a committed member of his team. For a long time, I was so focused on not fitting into either side that I failed to realize this empathy is crucial for a leader to have. The understanding I felt was not an inability to make a decision; it was emotional intelligence.

So, I remained in the middle being passionately Independent. But I am tired of being in the middle. I have opinions about everything — researched and passionate opinions.

Admitting to this is scary, having a voice and not knowing what to say is scary. Saying ‘I am a Republican’ is scary. But finally, I am ready to declare:

I am a Republican.

 

Liz Friden is a junior politics major at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. She currently interns at Running Start and Fox News Channel. On campus, she writes for her school newspaper, works for Events and Conference Services, leads Program Board Gives Back and is the Vice President of Events for the Student Philanthropy Council. In the past she has interned for Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, Congressman Chris Gibson and New York State Senator Rich Funke. She loves the DC community and takes part in Habitat for Humanity. Originally from Rochester, NY, she loves the outdoors and is currently training for her second half marathon.