Before Wednesday night's primetime Republican debate, the four GOP candidates with the lowest polling averages participated in a debate of their own — the so-called JV debate. But despite having fewer podiums, the early-bird event delivered an important takeaway for voters. The second GOP debate showed this huge difference between Republicans — a distinction that could finally change the way millennials think about the GOP.
It's no secret that the Republican Party has struggled to compete with Democrats among young audiences in recent elections. It's also no surprise. Republicans have a reputation for opposing things that we tend to support, like gay marriage, abortion, and access to contraception, among others. Still, there are plenty of young people who support the Republican Party's fiscally conservative policies. These on-the-fence GOP'ers find themselves torn between wanting to support the fiscal conservatism but not wanting to be identified with the out-of-date social conservatism. Finally though, they can breathe, rest, and vote happily thanks to CNN's JV debate.
In the early debate, some candidates stood firm on social conservatism, while some warmed to more liberal stances. Bobby Jindal, for instance, reminded us that Planned Parenthood is selling baby's body parts, whereas Lindsey Graham tried to focus more on economic issues and national security. Rick Santorum wasted no time getting to his point about social conservatism, laying out his views on abortion within the first sentence of his opening remarks. George Pataki stayed pretty moderate, but he vowed to win over a liberal population and implement "sweeping" conservative policies across the board, like he did in New York.
The idea that conservatism exists on a sliding scale is even more interesting considering the location of the debate. Wednesday's action took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, California. Reagan was one of the most recognizable figures of the Republican Party, but he differed greatly from the conservative candidates of this election. Reagan was often known for his fiscally conservative policies (aka Reaganomics), but he had a socially liberal streak. In fact, he started out his career in politics as a Democrat.
Even his sons have become vocal about the distinct platform differences between their father and the candidates they have to choose between in 2016. About the candidates, Michael Reagan, a conservative political strategist, told Politico:
It's interesting to see how many of them… recreate my father in their image and likeness instead of his. Ronald Reagan would never take 11 million people or three million people or a million people and throw them out of the United States of America.
There could be more talk of a socially liberal, fiscally conservative platform in the primetime debate, too. Marco Rubio, for one, has said that he doesn't support gay marriage, but he would attend a gay marriage ceremony because he can't make decisions for other people. That's good news for the millennials who have been waiting for a socially liberal, fiscally conservative hero!