The United States presidential election has long been something of a strategy game between the GOP and the Democratic Party. Phrases like “sacrificing the general to win the primary” or vice versa have arisen out of the traditional notion that a candidate must portray himself or herself as conservative/liberal enough to win the party nomination but moderate enough to win the general election. In the last two presidential races, the Republican Party toyed with degree of ideology — they nominated candidates who were more “down the middle” than extreme so as not to alienate moderates. However, the United States is currently amidst a state of record partisan polarization, which suggests that nontrivial cross-party voting next November is implausible. In the 2016 election, demographics may play a bigger role than ideology. That is not to say that ideology does not matter, but rather that it has become perceived as inextricably tied to party.
In order to have a chance at winning this election game, each party must select players (a nominee and running mate) who will appeal to the demographics necessary to win the most electoral votes. Two key groups that have the potential to be incredibly influential in 2016 are millennials and Latinos. Millennials (generally defined as those born between 1981 and 1997, which encompasses most current Stanford undergraduate and graduate students) are the largest and most racially diverse generation in the United States. Now that even the youngest millennials (most freshmen at Stanford) are old enough to vote, the generation can have an even more significant impact on the outcome of the 2016 election. Similarly, the number of voting-eligible Latinos is continually rising, especially in toss-up states like Colorado, Nevada, Florida and Texas. Wait — Texas? While many might be inclined to assume that Texas will be a solid red state based on the last four presidential elections, Texas’s significant increase in voting-eligible millennials and Latinos can certainly put an end to that trend.
So what should the Democrats and Republicans do? For one, the Democratic nominee (presumably Hillary Clinton) should select Julián Castro as her running mate. The Republicans should nominate Marco Rubio, and he should select John Kasich as his running mate.
Millennial and Latino voters tend to lean Democrat, but both have also had low voter turnout rates historically. The Democratic Party has a tremendous opportunity to ensure success by swinging Texas, but such a feat would require the massive mobilization and registration of the state’s many newly eligible millennials and Latinos (as well as of those who remain unengaged). Who better to lead such an initiative than Stanford alumnus and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro? As a young Latino from Texas, Julián Castro commands a presence reminiscent of pre-presidency Barack Obama, who inspired unprecedented turnout from young adults. Castro has also already begun campaigning for Hillary Clinton in San Antonio as part of her “Latinos for Hillary” campaign.
As for the GOP, it is well established that they must win Florida and Ohio to have a chance at winning the general election. This suggests that it would be wise of Republicans to nominate Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who, in turn, would be wise to select Ohio Governor John Kasich as his running mate.
While Marco Rubio’s policy stances mostly do not align with those of most non-Cuban Latinos or most millennials, his outlook does. Millennials are the most optimistic generation about the economy and the future of the nation, and Rubio’s optimism about America’s future as well as his avoidance of the xenophobic rhetoric embraced by his peers distinguish him from his current primary opponents. Moreover, in a general election, millennial and Latino dissatisfaction with President Obama may make those demographics more open to a Republican alternative.
John Ellis Bush’s campaign labeled Marco Rubio the “GOP Obama” as a criticism, but Rubio’s Obama-like youth, hopefulness and eloquence may actually be his greatest assets. To win in 2016, it is critical that a campaign appeal to young adults and Latinos. In the end, if both parties play their cards strategically, one thing seems inevitable: There will be a young Latino in the White House in 2017.
Contact Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna at ruairi ‘at’ stanford.edu.