Our old colleague Patrick Caldwell has an interesting article up at Mother Jones about the way the Hillary Clinton campaign—or whatever we can call it at this point, since it isn't actually a campaign but it isn't exactly just a bunch of independent people doing their own thing either—is going after college students. I had forgotten how idiotically hostile the Hillary '08 campaign was toward college students in Iowa, but that's just one of innumerable mistakes that one presumes she'll attempt to correct this time around. This, though, is the part that caught my eye:
I was an Iowa college student myself during the last Democratic nomination, and I remember all my friends rallying around Obama with only a handful of holdouts canvassing for Clinton. She represented everything old news to my generation. We came of age during the tail end of Bill's presidency. The Clintons were our parents' Baby Boomer obsession. The old fights over draft dodging and inhaling were quaintly out of touch when Barack Obama owned up to being a stoner in high school and having experimented with cocaine. The Iraq War, launched while we were in high school contemplating our futures, was the initial moment of political awakening for many of us; Clinton's vote in favor of the war destroyed her chances of winning over the college-age crowd last time around.
Republicans have already signaled that they plan to highlight Clinton's age and Baby Boomer status should she become the Democrats' nominee. "The idea that we're at the end of her generation and that it's time for another to step forward is certainly going to be compelling," Karl Rove has said.
Yet that argument appears to hold less weight among the college kids of today. She receives rapturous applause when her speaking tour takes her to college campuses, an increasingly frequent occurrence. Polls have found that voters ages 18 to 39 are more likely to view Clinton favorably than their parents.
I don't doubt that the Republicans will highlight Clinton's age. And it will have no effect. It will be a bunch of ugly comments about her looks and her wrinkles (just you wait), with unflattering pictures passed from one AOL account to another. The problem they'll have is that although their nominee will be younger than Clinton, perhaps significantly so, none of the contenders for the GOP nomination has much appeal to the young beyond their chronological age.
This SNL skit about Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush trying to pitch the kids at Coachella wasn't particularly funny, but it captured the problem. Just like with any other group of voters, style matters to young people, but so does substance. The GOP's basic policy profile just isn't going to be a hit among the young. A lot of what the party believes isn't even appealing to young Republicans; for instance, a recent Pew Research poll shows that 61 percent of Republicans between 18 and 29 support marriage equality. So it isn't as though millions of college kids are going to say, "Man, that Paul Ryan guy [or Ted Cruz, or Scott Walker, or whoever] is awesome! He's only, like, 25 years older than me!"
In 2008, Barack Obama was stylistically appealing to young people in lots of ways. But he also wasn't held back by an ideology pitched to the concerns and fears of angry, 75-year-old white guys. I don't know if college students will go nuts for Hillary Clinton, but I'm pretty sure they won't be turning away from her in favor of whoever the GOP nominates because they think she's too old.