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Young Women’s Leadership Summit

Young Women’s Leadership Summit

Photo credit: Turning Point News

More millennial women are turning to conservatism and are looking to leaders like NRA’s Wayne LaPierre for inspiration.

This feature appears in the September ‘17 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.  

Life had been good to the Democratic Party for so long that Democrats have almost forgotten what it was like to be anything but on top.

But on the morning of Nov. 9, Democrats awoke to the downfall of their tragic heroine—resulting in not only a Republican-controlled White House, but both chambers of Congress, 33 governorships, 69 of 99 state legislative chambers and a soon-to-be Supreme Court.

Millennials are slipping through the fingers of the Democratic Party.While the Democratic Party came up with lots of ways to wash their hands of the loss, Clinton Campaign Manager Robby Mook singled out one group—millennials.

He wasn’t wrong.

Democrats have grown far too reliant on young voters over the past two decades. With millennials set to bypass baby boomers as the largest generation of eligible voters in 2020, they believed they had secured the majority for the foreseeable future.

Present reality tells a different story. The national exit poll shows Clinton dropped 5 points among 18- to 29-year-olds. In fact, she did so poorly among this demographic that it handed her the loss in battleground states. In Missouri, where younger voters backed Obama by 19 points in 2012, they favored Trump by 11. The two candidates split the 18- to 29-year-old vote in Iowa, a state easily taken by Obama. In Ohio, Clinton was 13 points behind the former president.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told those gathered that they are the “tip of the spear” in the fight for freedom. Photo by Turning Point News

Millennials are slipping through the fingers of the Democratic Party. But why?

Since losing the 2016 contest, the Democrats have doubled down on the same entrenched views of the establishment that handed Clinton the nomination and most recently elected Tom Perez, who has done little to appease or incorporate young voters, the position of Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman. The focus on patronage dug the trench between the party establishment and younger progressives. The result was a fatally divisive primary that seeded deep mistrust of the DNC and other party leaders. Even as Democrats work to move “Onward Together,” no one from their septuagenarian leaders in Washington or depleted state legislatures seem to have any idea on how to do so. The disconnect between established party elders and young, impressionable political neophytes has become their Achilles’ heel. Democrats are losing the culture war and their front line—full of old, white, career politicians—is wearing thin.

The failed election resurrected a grassroots movement dedicated to replacing the Democrats’ geriatric lineup with diverse, fresh faces. A network of loosely connected, non-institutional organizations have taken it upon themselves to make a much-needed attitudinal adjustment, shifting their efforts to grooming and helping young liberals—specifically women—become the country’s future leaders.

Organizations like the Women’s March, Moms Demand Action and Run For Something have made it abundantly clear they can mobilize and energize large groups of people—and reach impressionable young minds. That should not be taken lightly. But, it’s been a challenge for these organizations to turn that energy from anger into electoral gains. So far, Democrats have been getting thumped.

Victory Pink
The sound of 1,000 pairs of heels clacking on the tile floor echoed through the Dallas Hyatt Hotel. The lobby was overflowing with brilliant, well-dressed, vivacious young ladies. Some acquainted themselves with each other in the Starbucks line, while others embraced in reunion by the elevators. Some waved their phones around, undoubtedly capturing these moments for social media.

They were there to attend the Young Women’s Leadership Summit, put on by Turning Point USA—an organization that trains student activists to aggressively combat the tactics of the Left, particularly through grassroots campus campaigns. This year, Turning Point USA partnered with the National Rifle Association to bring more than 1,000 to their Young Women’s Leadership Summit.

With program materials in hand, these women were about to take part in an immersive three-day boot camp consisting of advocacy training, networking and listening to speeches from the stars of the right (the NRA’s own Wayne and Susan LaPierre included). The setup was unapologetically feminine. There were pink frames with phrases like “Future President” for women to pose for photos along a “pink” carpet. Top-40 hits blared, and cannons shot pink and purple confetti into the air as each speaker took the stage.

As one attendee put it, “Pink not only represents girl power, but it is a shade of red, which stands for life, health and victory.

There was much to be celebrated. After all, these are good times to be a conservative woman. Attendees ranged in age from 16 to 23, which means this was the first election in which most could vote, and their nominee of choice walked away with the keys to the White House. 

But Turning Point USA had something else to celebrate—bringing together America’s oldest civil rights organization, the NRA, and the new generation of advocates.

Turning Point USA & The NRA
Turning Point USA is not just your average college movement for conservatives. The organization’s web of activists does more than just host chapter meetings—they take the time to recruit, properly equip and educate members of the conservative movement. This process creates excitement and allows them to mobilize it for substantive impact. 

They pride themselves on creating composed, articulate advocates that most wouldn’t associate with this generation. They have the mental toughness and educational backing to tussle with the best of them, and GOP leaders, including presidential candidates, have taken notice. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told the crowd before his speech that it’s “absolutely amazing what Turning Point is doing, and the difference you’re making across the United States.” The NRA chief had jokingly asked earlier if Turning Point USA was hiring.

Conservatives know that you can’t win elections simply by pandering to the identity groups of the rising American electorate, and that votes are built on ideology, not identity. If they are going to continue winning, they must never stop investing in grassroots organizations. That means supporting these year-round organizers to build organizations and movements in between election cycles, especially if they appeal to the largest eligible voting bloc.

As it turns out, millennials care about a lot more than free college and birth control. Economic freedom and Second Amendment-protected rights were the forefront of almost every discussion. But most importantly, those who attended voiced how they appreciated the fact that the conservative icons they considered personal heroes, like LaPierre, acknowledged and respected their efforts too.

LaPierre Takes The Stage
LaPierre’s address to the summit is proof that inspiration in conservatism is not privy to generational or gender bonds.

Taking the stage to Toby Keith’s “Made in America,” LaPierre told the young women in the room that they were the future of this country.

The YWLS crowd waits for the next conservative leader to step to the podium. Photo by Turning Point News

“You know, everywhere I go, more and more, I see powerful women leading the way in the fight for freedom,” LaPierre said. “Whether it’s on TV or in local communities or on college campuses, when I see our freedom challenged and threatened, I often see a strong, articulate, educated, savvy woman out there defending our rights.”

He continued: “When it comes to defending American freedom, you and American women like you are becoming the very tip of the spear. So I say, God bless freedom-loving American women. We need more of you and all of you!”

According to LaPierre, this is especially true when it comes to defending our Second Amendment because “the surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good woman with a gun.” His line was met with smiles and roaring applause.

LaPierre did not shy away from describing the drudgery of American politics. Elections have long been bloody battlefields, and this last one was no exception. But he encouraged the crowd of emerging young female leaders to never surrender their values and to remain committed to their goals, no matter the cost.

“I can look back over the last four decades of my life—going all the way back to when I was just like you—and I can honestly say that the dreams of my youth have come true,” LaPierre said. “My life, my work has meant something. It’s counted. But not without cost. Not without heavy burdens, unimaginable obstacles, unbelievable attacks.”

Even if he had known about the “avalanche of adversity and destructive forces” he would encounter in his career, LaPierre said with confidence that he would do it all over again.

“Your life’s journey is just beginning. It is an exciting time filled with aspirations and hopes and dreams of a well-lived life,” he said. “But make no mistake. That journey will be a bumpy road filled with adversity and potentially devastating attacks.”

“When it comes to defending American freedom, you and American women like you are becoming the very tip of the spear. So I say, God bless freedom-loving American women. We need more of you and all of you!” — Wayne LaPierreLaPierre said that while it can be hard to take a principled stance for what is good and right, if the young women persist, they will find success.

“If you push on, move forward, determine to never surrender your values, commit to your goals no matter the cost, you will prevail,” he promised. “You will succeed. Your life will mean something. Beyond your greatest dreams, your life will count.”

As LaPierre walked through the exit at the end of the speeches, he was met with dozens of open notebooks and front-facing cameras. Soon, others recognized the impromptu meet-and-greet and quickly clamored to their feet to take part. As the line snaked around the hotel lobby, LaPierre made sure to take the time to speak to each young lady.

“Proud of you,” he would say after asking every young woman their name. “Thank you for fighting.”

With every word of affirmation, every acknowledgement of effort and every minute of undivided attention, LaPierre perfectly demonstrated what conservative leaders have known, and what Democrats wish they did: Invest in millennials, or risk losing more than just them.

Lydia Longoria is an economist and writer from Texas. Follow her on Twitter: @LydiaLongoria.