In the twenty plus years that I have worked as a conservative activist, I’ve spoken on almost 200 university campuses.
Usually these are talks to campus Republican and conservative groups.
Over time I have observed changes in attitude among many young Republicans and I believe the shifts in attitude I see help explain the rise of Ron Paul.
When I first started lecturing early in the 1990’s, leading heroes of Republican youth were Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley, Jr.
Individual freedom, respect for constitutional limitations on government, and traditional values was the message. There was a sense of purpose. America as a “shining city on a hill,” quoted so often by Reagan, taken from the Puritan pilgrim John Winthrop, captured the picture.
Now, increasing numbers of my campus hosts ask that I not talk about “values.” Leave out the stuff about marriage, family, and abortion, please, and just talk about the economy.
The materialism and moral relativism that created our left wing culture is now infecting our youth on the right. Young Republicans may be pushing back on government, but too often now their motivation is like their left wing contemporaries. A sense of entitlement and an interest in claiming rights with little interest in corresponding personal responsibilities.
David Yepsen, who directs the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, recently described Ron Paul's success as a "resurgence of the libertarian and isolationist wings of the Republican Party," resulting from "hard times and unpopular wars."
But overlooked is the important role of youth.
Of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents that support Paul, 67 percent are under 34, compared to 37 percent of Romney’s and 20 percent of Gingrich’s support.
This youthful surge has helped Paul’s very successful fundraising, heavily driven by small contributions on the internet. Compared to Republicans who have raised the most funds, 48 percent of Paul’s is from small donors, compared to 10 percent of Romney’s and 4 percent of Rick Perry’s.
And youth have been critical in Paul’s on the ground organization. I watched this play out when Paul won the straw poll at the Values Voters Summit in Washington where I spoke last October.
Busloads of youthful Paul supporters arrived only to hear his speech and to pay and register so that they could vote. They put him over the top.
They have little interest in a Reagan-like “shining city on a hill” message, or talk about a threatening “evil empire” abroad.