How Conservatives Can Win Over Young Voters: Talk About Food Trucks

It's a lot easier to get young people to care about government overreach if you're going for their guts.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

If you want college kids to fight against government overreach, just take away their access to food trucks.

When the Washington D.C. city council held a hearing last week on new proposed regulations of the District’s burgeoning food truck scene, it took seven hours to get through all the complaints. And since the issue was about Korean tacos and curbside barbeque, and since the rules would limit the number of allowable trucks in Foggy Bottom to three, it wasn’t just your typical-small government types raising hell.

“These proposed regulations will halt a growing sector of the D.C. economy and damage the choice of GW students,” Ryan Counihan of the George Washington University Student Association said at the meeting in prepared remarks. “[The regulations] would severely restrict competition among Foggy Bottom dining venues and damage both the GW neighborhood and community.”

There’s been much written about how Republicans, in order to win future presidential elections, need to be able to pick off some component of Obama’s winning coalition. For the most part, the efforts have been languid. It’s proven hard for the GOP to come around on issues like marriage equality and legalization of marijuana.

Evolving on these issues instigates a sort of identity crisis for the party; on these issues, any evolution runs against their core values.

But some Republicans argue that there’s a way to stick to their core values and still make inroads with a younger generation of voters—a group that overwhelmingly went for Obama in 2012. The secret could lie with food trucks.

“Republicans should be making a bigger deal about how D.C. is trying to regulate the little guy right out of the market,” Grover Norquist, a hero of the anti-tax movement told National Journal. “What they need is for people to see this and say, ‘I’m on the side of the people that the government is messing with.’ Then the GOP should say that’s what it means to be a Republican.”

Norquist says that if Republicans do a better job of showing that they are fighting for the little guy, it can go a long way. And it’s not just food trucks. D.C. had a similar fight last year over whether the Uber car service had the right to compete with the long-established taxicab commission.

On a national level, there’s the Internet sales tax. If Republicans were to stand firm and oppose The Marketplace Fairness Act—which would compel certain online retailers to pay a sales tax—they would be in line with the 56 percent of voters that a recent Quinnipiac University poll said were against it.

It’s not that the idea has never occurred to the GOP. In July of last year, House Republicans passed the “Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act.” As part of the message Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy spoke at a press conference about how as a young man he won a $5,000 lottery and used it to start his own sandwich shop in Bakersfield California.

On one of his first days in business a government agency van pulled up to his shop. McCarthy said he thought perhaps he was being given “the key to the city,” for generating tax revenue. Instead, he was being dinged because his sign out front wasn’t up to code.

This is the kind of message that has a chance of resonating with the college crowd.

“If the law goes through, and all of a sudden there are only three food trucks here, I’ll tell you what, that will definitely start a dialogue about regulations on campus,” said Scott Lauermann, a member of the GW student Association. “Then, people would see the real world consequences.”

As it turns out, Lauermann is a self-described Republican as it is, something he says is a rarity on campus (he estimates that about 20 percent of the campus votes for the GOP). And while he says he often keeps a low profile about his politics, he recognizes that this could be the perfect issue to try and recruit people to join the GW College Republicans.

“I don’t know when Republicans got wedded to the Christian right, but that’s a divorce that needs to happen,” he said. “Students can get behind an anti-regulatory message, but not so much about the social stuff.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.