On Monday, The Washington Post published a story titled, “The Next Generation of Republicans," in which writer Eliza Gray interviewed 52 young conservatives to see how much they supported President Trump.
What Gray found was that the conservatives in general were not slavishly devoted to Trump, but instead favored an even-handed perspective that cheered Trump when he did something good, but criticized him when he did something bad, and that they pointed to one person as their inspiration: Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro.
For all the divergent versions of conservatism I found, I was struck by how frequently people mentioned one person who seemed to have the most influence on them and their peers: Ben Shapiro. A quick search for Shapiro’s name in my notes turns up statements like: “Ben Shapiro speaks for a lot of people,” “there’s a huge cult of Shapiro,” “my No. 1 right now is definitely Ben Shapiro. I think he’s a rock star.” Zach Talley, 24, a political consultant from South Carolina, put it most strongly: “People don’t just like Ben Shapiro,” he says. “They think what he thinks.”
Gray quoted Shapiro asserting that he wants to bring traditionalists and libertarians together with a perspective looking for a “balance between individual rights and individual virtue,” like favoring legalization of marijuana but cautioning people not to smoke it.
Gray continued by noting Shapiro thinks any popularity he has gained stemmed from showing young people that they could like some of Trump’s policies without having to ally themselves with him. Shapiro told Gray, “People see whom you voted for as a reflection of your character,” pointing out that some young conservatives were uncomfortable about appearing slavishly devoted to Trump because of some things they might not like about him. He explained, “Young conservatives are still not super fond of Trump, They like his governance; they don’t like his rhetoric. If you acknowledge that cognitive dissonance, you resonate with them.”
Shapiro’s perspective was echoed by young conservatives Gray interviewed; Jacob Hibbard, 25, a part-time radio host in Provo, Utah, stated, “Trump could pull out the ‘Communist Manifesto’ and Sean Hannity would praise him. We think that’s garbage. If we wanted to be on the Trump train, we’d be there already. We want someone objective who will criticize Trump when he does wrong.” Jacob Heinen, from Washington State University, said, “I take it case-by-case. Neil Gorsuch and tax reform were awesome. But he’s also done really, really horrible things. … What are Donald Trump’s political beliefs? You watch Twitter for an hour, and he changes his mind four times.”
Kassy Dillon, who attended Mount Holyoke College, founded an opinion blog called Lone Conservative, and says her blog now has 215 contributors with millions of page views, says of Trump, “He tweets and it sucks and sometimes it can be funny. I try to ignore it, or laugh it off.” Dillon now works as a writer for Shapiro’s Daily Wire. The vice president of her blog, Alec Sears, 21, pointed out, “A lot of people don’t make it past the ‘triggering the libs’ point on the map of political growth. The people who are going to get stuff done five, 10 years from now are the ones who keep evolving.”
Peter Burns, 25, who works for In Defense of Christians, which works to help Christians in the Middle East, was concerned about a “decoupling of conservatism from faith” among his peers as well as older Republicans’ devotion to Trump, saying, “It’s been difficult for me to see the gray heads of the movement go all-in for the administration. I thought they were holding the line on issues of character.”