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Trump And Young Voters, A Generational Risk For Republicans

Trump is supported by 1 in 5 younger voters, an astonishing and consequential collapse for the GOP.

A (rare) young Trump supporter in NYC on July 16
A (rare) young Trump supporter in NYC on July 16
Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — People always remember their first presidential vote — their first participation in the largest decision of American democracy.

In high school, I was a rather awkward, nerdish history buff. (My wife would dispute the verb tense.) I was also something of a lefty, particularly compared with my conservative religious upbringing. I debated on behalf of Jimmy Carter in the mock election at my Christian high school during the 1980 election, making me a political minority of one.

But my political identification had begun to shift by 1984, and I cast my first presidential vote for Ronald Reagan. For me, exposure to economics had an ideologically sobering effect. (A young liberal can't be too careful in his or her reading.) In addition, Walter Mondale and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, had turned conservative religious people into a rhetorical skeet target. And Reagan himself — who had demonstrated personal courage and a capacity to govern — seemed to embody something hopeful and decent about the country.

I was not alone. In 1984, voters ages 18 to 24 supported Reagan over Mondale by 61% to 39%. "The oldest president in U.S. history and the youngest members of the nation's electorate," said the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1986 , "have forged one of the strongest bonds in American politics." The first serious political memories of my generation were of an appealing, creative, electorally dominant (at the national level) GOP.

Now jump forward to a recent USA Today/Rock the Vote poll that shows Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump by 56% to 20% among voters under 35. Let that sink in. Trump is supported by 1 in 5 younger voters — an astonishing and consequential collapse for the GOP. Though the young don't turn out at election time with the same frequency as older voters, they always get (and deserve) particular attention from the parties. In the long run, younger voters are older voters. In the long run, older voters are . . . companions to John Maynard Keynes.

So why is Trump crashing and burning among the young? The 2016 election excludes some explanations. It cannot be that Clinton is making an inspiring, Barack Obama-esque appeal to youthful idealism. During the primaries, Clinton was routinely trounced among the young. In Iowa caucus entrance polling, Bernie Sanders bested Clinton among 17-to-29-year-old Democrats by 84% to 14% — the previous most laughable showing among the young.

And it cannot be that younger voters are rejecting Trump because he is too socially conservative. He got applause during his convention speech for promising to defend "LGBTQ citizens." Trump's nomination represents the advance of gay rights (though not of gay marriage) within the Republican coalition and the marginalization of social issues.

I would venture that Trump's failure among the young has something to do with his assault on the idea of tolerance, particularly racial and religious tolerance. Younger voters are less likely than other age groups to regard racially inclusive language as "politically correct." They are less likely to believe in "reverse discrimination" and to embrace anti-immigrant attitudes. And, according to the USA Today/Rock the Vote survey, they were not impressed by the GOP nominee's convention speech. By more than 2 to 1, younger voters said it made Trump seem less human and accessible.

While Clinton has an ethics problem, Trump has a humanity problem. His combativeness and lack of political polish could be advantages among younger voters. But these are tied to a discrediting lack of empathy. It is one thing to go after "low-energy" Jeb Bush or "Lyin' " Ted Cruz; it is another to mock a disabled reporter, stereotype Mexicans as rapists, condemn a judge because of his ethnicity, attack the faith of a grieving Gold Star mother, or call for systematic discrimination against Muslims. These are not violations of political correctness. They are violations of human decency, revealing serious moral impairment.

Here is something for Reince Priebus, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders to consider. At high schools and colleges with Latino or Muslim students, spray-painting "Trump 2016" on a wall or poster is properly taken as a racially charged incident. When white students chant "Trump! Trump!" at a basketball game against a team including minorities, it is properly taken as a racial taunt. Young people understand the logo of the Republican nominee — the very name of the Republican presidential candidate — as conveying a message of exclusion.

These are the first serious political impressions of my younger son, voting in his first presidential election this year. It is the way to lose a generation.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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