DAILY SIGNAL: Gov. Scott Walker on What Makes America’s Youth Tick


Much has been made of grabbing the coveted youth vote. America’s future lies in her young people, so theoretically, whoever influences the young now will be in a much better position to steer the country.

But politicians often seem to look at young Americans as some sort of alien species. What do they like? What matters to them? How do I get them on my side?

Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, now president of Young America’s Foundation, argues that young folks aren’t that much different than your average voter and mostly have the same concerns.

“Young Americans still have to put gas in their car, their moped, or whatever they’re driving these days,” says Walker, emphasizing that the economic pain hitting older Americans also affects young Americans.

“If anything, I think [young Americans are] more libertarian than they are liberal, in the sense that at their core, they just want to live their own lives,” he says.

When asked whether he thinks Republicans and conservatives can court young Americans who feel betrayed by the Democrats and President Joe Biden, Walker responds:

I think there are others who are less about hardcore right- or left-wing ideological viewpoints being upset and more just being upset in general. I do think there’s a tremendous opportunity. But it can’t just be that we’re against Joe Biden.

Instead, Walker says, conservatives should make the argument for “a better way forward.”

The former Wisconsin governor joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” today to discuss what young Americans are looking for in their leaders and how conservatives can best continue to court younger Americans.

We also cover these stories:

  • The U.S. announces that an American drone strike Saturday eliminated al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Kabul, Afghanistan.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives in Taiwan under heavy rhetorical fire from China.
  • President Joe Biden names FEMA regional administrator Robert Fenton as the government’s lead on monkeypox.
  • A group of major news outlets sue the Texas Department of Public Safety over public records relating to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Doug Blair: My guest today is Scott Walker, former Wisconsin governor and president of Young America’s Foundation. Governor, welcome back to the show.

Scott Walker: Great to be with you.

Blair: The common knowledge seems to be that young Americans are more interested in the policies of the left, that they go with the Democrats, they go with the left on pretty much everything. But it looks like President [Joe] Biden is currently hemorrhaging support amongst younger Americans. Why do you think that is and what’s the cause?

Walker: Well, I think it’s not unlike most Americans, you just fail. He’s not for the job. People can see that. Young Americans still have to put gas in their car, their moped, or whatever they’re driving these days. I think they see a lot of failed promises. I think they see a lot of confusion.

… Even for some of the bold promises that some students on the left or young people on the left thought—he just hasn’t achieved those. I think they’re particularly frustrated, thinking, “Hey, wait, the House, the Senate, the White House are all the same party, and yet you’re making excuses for these things. It doesn’t make any sense.”

But I think the larger context is, at least what we find on college campuses, in particular, and younger, is that most students aren’t liberals. To be clear, most students are conservative. Most students are just living their lives. They’re not unlike most Americans. They’re not hard one way or the other.

But particularly on campuses, I think where many in the national media confuse things is they hear this maybe 15%, 20% on campus who are really radical, over the top, in your face all the time, and they assume that’s how most students feel.

And I think in turn, in some ways, … it’s not just skewing the media. It’s also skewing people and Generation Z because they think, because that’s all they hear, “Well, maybe I am supposed to be that way,” instead of realizing, “Oh, there are other ideas out there.”

And so, that’s where we come in with Young America’s Foundation and other groups like us that we partner with to say, “The more we get the truth out, the more, not only do we expose people to these ideas, but we in turn, particularly these conferences, the No.1 thing I hear young people saying, ‘I had no idea how other people thought like I did.’”

And it’s because cancel culture really is real, because they don’t want to win a fair fight. They want to just dominate everything and make anyone who has even an ounce of a right-of-center thought feel intimidated for them to even bring it up.

Blair: Right. It’s almost like, from what you’re saying, that most young people aren’t these aliens that we need to figure out. It’s, they’re just Americans, like everybody else, who happen to be under the age of 30.

Walker: If anything, I think they’re more libertarian than they are liberal, in the sense that at their core, they just want to live their own lives. They don’t want a lot of people—and certainly with their parents in a certain phase in life.

But just in general, you talk to people about things—a good example, we do extensive polling of college- and high school-aged students, not just our students, but the general population, to get a sense of, where do we need to hone our message in?

And on an obvious one, we ask about student loan debt, “Do you want the federal government to write part of that off?” Of course, not surprisingly, young people, particularly in college, go, “Yeah, sure. That sounds great.”

But then you ask a follow-up question and you say, “Do you think people who never went to college should have to pay for your student loan debt?” And a majority say, “No, that’s not fair.”

So it’s interesting to me. What it shows is, if you talk about two things—authenticity, I think, is a driving force and fairness. And I think the more we can talk to young people with stories and ways that relate to their circumstances, to their reality, that applies that authenticity.

I’ve heard that even asking the last few days at this conference what speakers the students like the most. Overwhelmingly, it was people who … it was more about their Q&A even than it was their lecture, because they knew it wasn’t scripted.

The fairness part, I think for years, we’ve conceded that to the left. Even Joe Biden, “Oh, well, the wealthy should pay their fair share,” to which I always push back and say, “Great, let’s do a flat tax. If I make 10 times more than you, I pay 10 times more.” But that’s not what they want. They want more taxes. They don’t want fairness.

And so we should call them out every single way and make the larger argument. … Why is it fair that the government’s doing all these things to us? And I think young people, once you start turning that around, get the upper hand on fairness and speak in ways that are authentic. We have a real shot.

Blair: I’m glad you mentioned that some of the students are giving their responses to what they like here because I am curious, what is something that the young Americans here have been responding to? What has been reverberating in their experiences?

Walker: … I was surprised, actually, and I love [former Vice President] Mike Pence, so don’t take this wrong. But last year, he spoke, gave very much a stump speech and people reacted to. In fact, they said the speech, they didn’t care for as much as they liked the Q&A he took. And they thought that was authentic.

This year, I was interested, because instead of talking about what he did with President [Donald] Trump, he talked about this new agenda he calls a “Freedom Agenda,” and students liked that because it was forward-thinking. It was visionary. So that’s just a good example of not just a speaker, but the difference between one year’s conference versus another.

Others, like [former Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos, who’s not … giving a speech where everybody’s standing on their feet the whole time, but they loved it. I did a sit-down with her in Q&A and people loved that because it was clear. I didn’t have a script to read off of. These were just questions about her experience, about her book. We took questions from the crowd. I think the more students get a chance to interact—

We had a military veteran who came and talked about his passion for America. I think I heard that all last night, how compelling it was.

And even someone like [former Housing and Urban Development Secretary] Ben Carson last night, Ben Carson was just really a fan favorite. Even though, unconventional to a conference, it wasn’t filled with standing ovations the whole time. It was really a lot of people on the edge of their seats leaning in, obviously part of it’s because he’s got a quiet demeanor, but really, trying to pull out every bit of wisdom that he was sharing. And students just loved it. And that’s just a few days in.

Blair: One of those things that we discussed at the top was the Biden administration is hemorrhaging young support. Are those people that we feel like we can bring into the fold and say, “Look, you’re not happy with the Biden administration. You might not just be happy with the Democratic Party overall”?

Walker: I think it’s a combination. I think there are going to be some on the hard left that they’re hemorrhaging just because they feel like they haven’t fulfilled the promises.

And I don’t know [if] that … hard group will ever be conservatives. They may be more like Stein voters, where in 2016, where they go find somebody else. Which for me, is just fine. That’s a vote for—back then, a vote for Jill Stein was a vote for Donald Trump, effectively.

But I do think there are others who are less about hardcore right- or left-wing ideological viewpoints being upset and more just being upset in general.

I do think there’s a tremendous opportunity. But it can’t just be that we’re against Joe Biden. It’s got to be—again, that’s part of the reason why I think the former vice president’s speech, interestingly, was very appealing. Because it offered a view of the future, and not just as a campaign, but ideas that we should be pushing.

I think that’s why our students, even though it was long before most of them were even born, have loved historically at other events hearing or seeing on YouTube speeches that [President] Ronald Reagan gave. Because so many of his speeches were timeless.

Even the 1964 “Time for Choosing,” which is before I was even born, … other than a few comments about Barry Goldwater, you could listen to that speech today and it would be just as relevant now as it was back then because it was about ideas. It wasn’t about a bill or a specific item.

And so, that’s where I think with the young people, many of whom are frustrated with the current president, Joe Biden, making the case that we’ve got a better way forward.

Blair: Right. Now, something that is occurring to me, as you mentioned that, is that when Reagan was president, and at least Reagan’s mentality about America was that this was a great place, it doesn’t seem like there’s that same mentality in the country nowadays, that people are down on the country and down on the prospects.

Are we seeing that young people are sort of going along with that mentality that America is a down place to be right now?

Walker: Well, in fact, ironically, Reagan’s last speech from the Oval Office warned about this very subject, that if we didn’t teach more about American history and shared civic rituals we’d have troubles, and his warning was prophetic.

Having said that, I go back to my initial point about how not every student on campus is a left-wing nut, that the left-wing nuts get the most attention. I think that’s true with young people and Americans in general. … In fact, I go back to even in some of the polling we do—disturbing trends in terms of openness toward socialism, even communism in some regard. So, that’s very dangerous and very scary.

Same breath, though, some of those same polls say, “Do you believe that someone, no matter who they are, no matter what their background, can succeed in America if they work hard?” And they say, “Yes.”

Then, actually, interesting caveat, we did a follow-up and said, “Do you believe that someone who comes from another country, if they come here legally and work hard, can succeed?” Overwhelmingly said, “Yes.”

What that tells me is they may not call it the American dream, they may not use the same verbiage we do, but fundamentally, they still believe in some of those core principles.

Had they been tainted by ’16, ’19, and Black Lives Matter and critical race theory? Absolutely. But we’ve got to remind them over and over again, … not that we’re making apologies for things like slavery, quite the contrast. We’re saying that slavery was evil and awful, but that America is not defined by that.

Unlike other places in the world where slavery still exists today, we overcame that more than a century and a half ago. And it was because of our founding principles, because of the American promise defined in the Declaration of Independence.

Even if not all of our Founders fully lived up to that promise in their own personal lives, that doesn’t diminish the fact that the idea that we’re all created equal; that God, not the government, gives us fundamental rights, not the least of which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and that we continue to move closer and closer to become a more perfect nation, that those are fundamental truths, and key parts of what really does truly make America great.

Blair: Mm-hmm. Governor, this convention has been going on for a few days now, and I’m assuming you’ve had the opportunity to walk around, talk with some students, and have seen what their thoughts are. What are they saying are some of the most pressing issues facing the country? Is it the economic stuff, like we’re seeing with inflation, or are there other topics that maybe aren’t registering with other Americans that specifically register with this demographic?

Walker: Well, I think like every age group, they’re concerned about the economy, and particularly about the impact of prices. They don’t say “inflation.” They talk about gas.

And that’s something that, unless you live a block from your school, everybody in this country has got to go anywhere, unless you’ve got an electric car, which probably is not a lot of students because they’re mostly pretty pricey. So without a doubt, they’re talking about that.

But a couple key things I think you hear from students more than you hear from … the general population, one, just free speech in general.

There’s a, understandably so, tremendous concern about not just the traditional idea of bringing a speaker in … That in itself is a major league challenge on most of these campuses, including, sadly, even some government-run institutions, where it’s clearly a violation of free speech rights.

But just the idea of being able to speak your mind in the classroom, speak your mind on campus, even as a student to be able to speak even on your own social media without being really viciously, and sometimes even physically, attacked and targeted, that is a very real concern among students here, as I hear from other students across the country.

So, I think you hear that. … You hear concerns about—and hopefully that won’t happen, although who knows about schools being closed down in the last few years and campuses—people feeling like they were short-changed, they didn’t get their full investment and their education. You certainly hear that.

And then gender and race issues, … which is interesting. Because I think most students here—and you see a diverse group. We’d love to have even more over time, but you see a diverse group of people, not only race, but ethnicity and background. But this feeling like this pressure. They say over and over again on campus that things are being divided by race.

Ironically, some of the same things my grandparents fought against, in terms of division by race in the ’40s and ’50s are now coming back, but not the way they used to. I mean, who would’ve thought that BLM and white supremacists would in some ways be aligned in terms of separating people by race? But that’s sadly what you see all over, but particularly in college campuses.

And then gender, this idea. … People say, “Yeah, … I have to go to counseling if I don’t say my pronouns at the beginning of an introduction to class.” Really ridiculous stuff out there.

And I think where it really hits home is with a lot of the young women talking about competing in sports, maybe even if they’re not Division I, they’re not competing in college. But many of them say, “Hey, I swam. I ran track. I did these things. And I just feel like all that stuff I worked hard on just seems to be slipping away because of these campuses, the NCAA and the Ivy Leagues and others, allowing people who were born biologically as a man to compete as a woman.”

Blair: Right. It sounds like from what you’re saying … they’re concerned with a mix of kitchen table issues, like not being able to afford gas, the rising price of housing and rent, and such, but also with the combination of culture war issues. They seem to be focusing on that.

I wonder if you think that a party going forward or a political movement going forward should be focusing on one or the other, or if they should be trying to combine those two things together?

Walker: Oh, I think you have to combine it. I mean, Andrew Breitbart said years ago that politics is downstream from culture. And it’s one of the things I think.

As much as I didn’t always talk or tweet the way that President Trump did, one thing I really did appreciate was that I think he had a sense—sometimes the media would even mock him about talking about how long a washing machine takes, or a light bulb, or other things like that. But you realize, even in those instances, those are real things that real people go, “Yeah, what’s up with that?” They’re not some policy white paper coming out of think tanks in D.C. or politicians in our nation’s capital.

And so I think there’s a key that there’s a combination. In fact, I think in some ways it is important to be a combination. You can’t overplay one or the other.

You can’t just talk about culture and ignore the reality that people are hurting and that the economy is only getting worse; that what we saw in the late ’70s with stagflation, where it was not only inflation driving up prices, but the economy going in the tank, and the challenges that came with people being out of work and not being able to pay for things, you’re seeing more and more of that here now.

At the same time, not only for young people, but for parents saying, “What do I do? I don’t like what’s happening. The last two years has opened my eyes to what my school is either teaching or not teaching. I want to do something about it, but I’m not wealthy enough to afford a private school. I don’t have the time to homeschool. What options do I have? How do you put parents in charge? How do I deal with these things? How do I push back when my school or some local organization is bringing in drag queen strippers to read and do things with kids? How do I speak up without being branded as a transphobic hater out there?”

And those are just real issues that people have at all different ages. But I think it compounds in college because that’s where people are out on their own for the very first time. Yeah, their parents still got their back, but they’re not physically there. It’s a bigger challenge.

And that’s why, again, the work we’re doing at Young America’s Foundation, not just to educate and train, but then to connect them with other students, it’s just so important. There’s just really a power and strength in the connection of other people your age, in your sorts of situations, having your back.

Blair: Well, governor, I think that’s wonderful, and I actually do want to end on that note. So, final question for you is, if you are, say, a young person in Washington, D.C., or from where I’m from, Portland, Oregon, that’s on a college campus in a blue enclave and you want to affect change, and you recognize that that’s really difficult, how do you, one, keep the faith, keep up hope that things are going to change, and then actually affect that change?

Walker: A couple things. I think part of it is uniting with others. My youngest son is 27. He went to University of Wisconsin, which is right there to the left of Berkeley, but he came out stronger.

And the part of the key was, he surrounded himself with other students who shared his values, not that he was closed off. He got enough of the other side. … People always say, “What’s your competition?” They think it’s some group organization on the right. I say, “It’s taxpayer-funded, taxpayer-subsidized professors and classes.”

So, you got enough of them on the left, but to counterbalance that, to keep a reality check, he was involved with things like YAF and College Republicans, and others, and those went a long way, still friends of his. So, I think that’s helpful, whether it’s YAF or some other group.

But I also think the other part of what we do in these trainings, not just at this conference, but materials we give out, books that we give out are—and I came from, before I was governor, I was in a very, very blue county, about 2-to-1 Democrat over a Republican. And I learned—I was moderate in tone, but not in action. And so part of it was learning how to talk. I would take it a step further on a campus.

One of the techniques we encouraged students to do is ask questions, not necessarily full-scale debate, full-scale attack; you yell, I yell; we go back at it, but ask your questions. “Well, why is that? Well, where did you hear that from? Well, what exactly does that mean?”

Because what we found is most liberals, it’s very much a cookie cutter, bumper sticker responsive, “Oh, the world’s going to end if we don’t do something about fossil fuels,” or, “You’re just transphobic,” or they usually go down the line, racist, sexist, transphobic, whatever.

And say, “Why is that? What exactly about that?” Or, “So, do you think it’s fair that someone who’s born biologically as a man should now somehow be able to compete against women?”

And I’ll give you a great example of a contrast with that. One of those interviews, somebody pushed me and I said, “So, is it OK for a 19-year-old to swim against a 10-year-old? Or is it OK for someone in boxing who weighs 325 pounds to box in the lightweight class against someone who weighs 120?”

Well, we have restrictions, not based on our beliefs, but based on the reality of equality—not equality, but of making sure it’s a fair fight, or fair, in this case, a race or challenge.

And the more we point things like that out, it doesn’t have to be yelling back and forth, but just asking those questions really has a powerful impact.

Blair: Right. Well, thank you so much. That was Scott Walker, former Wisconsin governor and president of Young America’s Foundation. Governor, very much appreciate your time.

Walker: Good to be with you.

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The post Gov. Scott Walker on What Makes America’s Youth Tick appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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