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Young conservative voters share their views on former President Trump

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In 2018 and 2020, young people turned out to vote in historically high numbers, helping Democrats cement their power in Washington. NPR's Barbara Sprunt spoke with young Republicans voting for the first time on Tuesday about the future of their party.

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: Kaetlyn Diaz, a sophomore at the University of California Irvine, says it's time for the GOP to take notice of its young members.

KAETLYN DIAZ: There's people who - you know, they don't want to pass on the microphone or the torch. But I see young people in the Republican Party rising up more and more.

SPRUNT: Diaz lists restricting abortion access and cutting back federal dollars to support Ukraine in the wake of Russia's invasion as top issues.

DIAZ: If they spent that money from Ukraine to forgive student loans, I'd be glad about that. I think that's a better cause than going to Ukraine.

SPRUNT: She says people often just assume she supports Democrats.

DIAZ: When people find out I'm pro-life, they're very shocked. And I've had people, like, I guess, dumbfounded because, you know, I'm, like, a woman of color, disabled. Or they expect me to have certain political views, and I don't have those political views.

SPRUNT: Abby Kiesa of CIRCLE, a Tufts University research group focused on youth political engagement, says that kind of misconception is common.

ABBY KIESA: It's important to bust a myth that all young people under 30 are liberal.

SPRUNT: In the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, over a third of young people voted for Donald Trump.

KIESA: There is a strong majority of young people who identify as Republicans.

SPRUNT: That doesn't mean they're ideologically identical. While Diaz doesn't think there should be exceptions to limits on abortion outside of health of the mother, Reece Smith, an 18-year-old living in Charlottesville, Va., and a fellow conservative, has a different take.

REECE SMITH: In cases of rape, incest or the mother's life is in danger, then it's something that is necessary, and it's health care. If you ban abortion, people aren't going to stop doing it. So I prefer for it to be in a safe environment.

SPRUNT: Smith lists crime and inflation as her top issues, but she said she's also concerned by GOP lawmakers like Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia, whom she calls a distraction.

SMITH: She has said things that are terrible. The thing about the Jewish space lasers is ridiculous. And I don't like it when Republicans go after other Republicans in the party.

SPRUNT: Connor Gibson from Hattiesburg, Miss., is another young Republican who's worried about the divisions in the party.

CONNOR GIBSON: The extremes have taken over not in the sense of in numbers but in rhetoric. And it really overshadows a lot of policy discussions that we need to be having.

SPRUNT: He's finishing up his term as chairman of Mississippi Teenage Republicans. His group has been outspoken against conspiracy theories like QAnon. He wants to see the conversation recenter on kitchen-table issues like boosting the economy and lowering inflation.

GIBSON: For me, it is about lower taxes, less government and not about these crazy culture wars that a lot of people like to chase down rabbit holes.

SPRUNT: Matt Landau, who goes to college in Arizona, agrees there's a lot of debate over what role former President Trump should have in the future of the Republican Party.

MATT LANDAU: As far as who I want to see run, I mean, who got me into politics is Trump. So I got to stick with my guy. I mean, he got me into this whole thing.

SPRUNT: But he said he's worried that Trump is just too polarizing to win the general election in 2024.

LANDAU: A lot of conservatives don't want to say it right now. And I think you got to say it. It's like, you can't just blindly say, Trump's our guy; let's have him run, and then he loses like he did in 2020.

SPRUNT: But Diaz, the California voter, says she still sees Trump as the person to lead the GOP.

DIAZ: We all need to unite behind Trump because he's - ever since he became president, I would admit that the GOP has taken a shift further to the right, and I think that's a good thing.

SPRUNT: Reports suggest Trump is considering launching his 2024 presidential bid in mid-November. Barbara Sprunt, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.