GOP’s lame Uber strategy: How Grover Norquist thinks they can sway millennials

Presenting Republicans' crafty new scheme to make millennials forget that they hate Republicans: Talk about Uber!

Topics: uber, Republicans, Republican National Committee, Millennial Generation, millennials, Hispanic voters, Regulation, urban areas, Washington Post, young voters, Pew Research Center, Reason, Government, Editor's Picks,

GOP's lame Uber strategy: How Grover Norquist thinks they can sway millennialsGrover Norquist (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Despite what some of my readers may think, I’m not a millennial. I don’t think I am, at least. Depending on who’s setting the boundaries, my birthday was either in the tail end of Generation X or the first years of the millennial age. Either way, I don’t self-identify as “millennial,” and my rabid dislike of texting paired with my lack of tattoos means I’d be considered a shitty one anyway. (Pew says Gen Xers are “often depicted as savvy, entrepreneurial loners” – I’m at least one of those things.)

As such, I’m largely immune to the Republicans’ hilarious, fits-and-starts effort to improve their image among younger voters. Having sabotaged their own rebranding efforts with Hispanics and other emerging voter demographics, the party is now trying to prove to the youth that today’s GOP is not just about giving tax breaks to old white guys. Back in March, the Republican National Committee debuted a series of ads featuring a leather jacket-clad hipster who just hates all the “regulations that make it impossible to hire anyone.”

This idea that “millennials hate regulations” seems to be what’s animating the GOP’s outreach effort. The RNC’s newest ploy is an online petition “in support of innovative companies like Uber.” Young people who live in cities apparently love this ride-sharing service, which allows subscribers to order up a driver with their smartphones. According to the petition, “taxi unions and liberal government bureaucrats are setting up roadblocks, issuing strangling regulations and implementing unnecessary red tape to block Uber from doing business in their cities.”

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Again, I’m just a cynical pseudo-Gen Xer, so I don’t know if the average millennial is stupid enough to give the RNC his or her email address out of a shared appreciation for Uber. But I do know that this whole issue surrounding Uber and government regulation is not nearly as cut-and-dried as the GOP would have it.

The whole idea of Uber as a secret weapon for Republicans was popularized by Grover Norquist, who wrote an Op-Ed last month arguing that the rides-sharing company “can help the GOP gain control of the cities.” The thrust of Norquist’s Op-Ed was facile: Democrats and liberals love regulations and hate innovators, while Republicans love the free markets and champion economic disruption. In Uber, he argued, the GOP has an opportunity to peel away “young urban dwellers.”

But as Emily Badger at the Washington Post pointed out in her response to Norquist’s Op-Ed, there are plenty of Democratic officials who’ve signed laws and passed regulations allowing Uber to operate in their states and cities. And there are Republicans, like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who’ve nixed pro-Uber legislation. “The political lines are definitely not so tidy as to suggest that Republicans can leverage liberals’ ‘refusal to embrace the innovative technology’ to sweep back into favor with urban voters,” Badger writes.

On a broader level, it’s not immediately clear how vocally supporting Uber translates into increased urban youth support for the GOP. They’re rooting for a business to succeed, not the people whom the message is ostensibly aimed at. Perhaps the thinking is that millennials put such a priority on convenient transportation options that they’ll overlook Republican opposition to gay marriage, immigrant rights, equal pay for women, affordable healthcare – basically every issue the kids care about these days. “I know the GOP wants to boot me off my parents’ health plan … but they also want Uber’s investors to see healthy returns – I’m so angst-ridden and conflicted!” they would write on their Tumblrs, whatever those are.

Also, hostility toward “liberals” and government involvement in the economy doesn’t seem to be a message that would resonate terribly well with your average young person. “Millennials stand out for voting heavily Democratic and for liberal views on many political and social issues,” Pew found earlier this year. On economic issues, they tend to be pretty supportive of government playing a significant economic role. “Millennials are significantly less critical of government on a number of dimensions than are other age cohorts,” Pew observed in 2010, noting that this “covers opinions about government’s effectiveness, government regulation of business and whether the government has too much control over people’s lives.” Even the libertarians at Reason, when they conducted their own survey of millennials, found that “46 percent of millennials agree ‘government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest.’”

But, again, I can’t claim to know precisely what millennials are all about. And I certainly don’t begrudge Republicans for trying to get America’s youth to hate them slightly less (61 percent disapproval among 18-39-year-olds, according to recent polling). I just think the way they’re going about it is ridiculous and shallow. They’re taking a stock GOP position that appeals mainly to the wealthy, pro-business elements within the party (regulations are bad!), slapping the Uber logo on it, and saying, “Look, youths, we too share your concerns.” If the average millennial is apt to be swayed by such transparent nonsense, then I weep for the future.

Simon Maloy

Simon Maloy is Salon's political writer. Email him at smaloy@salon.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SimonMaloy.

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