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US House Speaker: Policies, Not Personalities, Will Win Millennial Voters


House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisisconsin responds to a question from the audience during a town hall at Gaston Hall at Georgetown University in Washington, April 27, 2016.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisisconsin responds to a question from the audience during a town hall at Gaston Hall at Georgetown University in Washington, April 27, 2016.

Can millennial voters support Republicans?

That was the question House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to answer for a group of several hundred Georgetown University students Wednesday, days after a new Harvard University poll found that millennial voters overwhelmingly reject Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and his policies.

"Why support Republicans?" Ryan asked the students, gathered in person and online under the hashtag #RyanatGU. One student said he wasn't thrilled about the choices in the Republican presidential primary field.

Ryan pushed back, saying, "Look at the ideas, look at the agenda."

Ryan — who will be serving as the chairman of the Republican National Convention later this summer — said he had to be careful about not favoring one Republican candidate over another, but appeared to address some of Trump's outspoken statements when he said, "Republicans lose personality contests anyway — we always do. We've learned that lesson the hard way. But we win ideas contests."

The hourlong town hall touched on the national debt, health care and the environment, but focused largely on immigration and racial diversity — issues that have traditionally held Republicans back with younger voters.

Ryan told students that he recognized that millennial voters want to see that politicians will address the issues they care about. "You should want to be competed for and not taken for granted," he said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, bottom right, responds to a question from the audience during a town hall at Gaston Hall at Georgetown University in Washington, April 27, 2016.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, bottom right, responds to a question from the audience during a town hall at Gaston Hall at Georgetown University in Washington, April 27, 2016.

Students applauded enthusiastically for Ryan's assertion that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley did the right thing by taking down the Confederate flag from the state Capitol.

"This symbol does insult," Ryan said. "This symbol, I think, does more to divide the country than it does to unify it."

Earlier, Ryan made his opening pitch, saying, "The America you want is the America we want — open, diverse, dynamic."

But he said the opportunity to get immigration reform through Congress was "lost" because the president had "poisoned the well" by issuing executive orders.

"It's not at all about a demographic. It's not at all about Latinos," Ryan said. "It is about the rule of law. It is about this country knowing who is coming and going and then getting these laws right so they work."

Megan Miraglia, a graduate student at Georgetown and a self-described Hillary Clinton supporter, said she respected Ryan's realistic outlook on the Republican Party's outreach to younger voters. But — as Ryan said in the event — the decision comes down to policy.

"Because he's willing to talk about the policies," Miraglia said, "it's still clear for me where we're separate in terms of right and left and the government, but I appreciate the way he approached the event and took all the questions."

WATCH: Paul Ryan reaches out to millennial voters

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    Katherine Gypson

    Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.  Prior to joining VOA in 2013, Katherine produced documentary and public affairs programming in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey. She also produced and co-wrote a 12-episode road-trip series for Pakistani television exploring the United States during the 2012 presidential election. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University. Follow her @kgyp

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