National Review gathered dozens of talking heads and GOP elected luminaries along with nearly a thousand supporters over the weekend in Washington in proceedings designed to take the pulse of a bloodied but unbowed conservative movement.
The electeds who did star turns were, in order of appearance, Tom Cotton, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal. Their ages? 35, 42, 45, 42 and 42.
Others on the front bench of conservatism? Kelly Ayotte at 44, Chris Christie at 50, Rand Paul at 50, Marco Rubio at 41 Pat Toomey at 51 and John Thune at 52.
Which brings me to Georgia and Iowa and the United States Senate seats there which are up for grabs after the announcement of retirement by Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Tom Harkin.
The GOP base is most enthused by the new generation of its leaders, not by those who have been on the national political stage for generations. It is energized by and renewed because of young leaders with styles of politics and cadences of speech which have been honed in a new media age that is completely different from the era of Reagan.
Certainly the conservative principles have stayed the same from 1980 to 2012, but the language of persuasion has completely changed. Watching speaker after speaker at the National Review Institute drove this home.
The GOP doesn’t have to retire its most venerable intellectuals. One could not replace Michael Barone or Charles Krauthammer for sheer knowledge and wisdom. When Paul Ryan spoke about the great virtue of prudence in politics in a thoughtful, inspiring speech, the practical upshot of that call is to be sure to consult with wise men and women who have been fighting for the right for many years.
In the recruitment of the candidates for the cycle ahead, however, the parties in the states concerned must remember that the party craves fresh faces skilled in delivering venerable messages. It does not need long-serving incumbents whose turn it is to step up. This doesn’t mean that all candidates have to be under 50, but it does mean that decades in D.C.’s corridors isn’t a calling card.
Dr. Tom Price in Georgia is 59, but has only been in the House of Representatives since 2005. He is a relative newcomer to politics, and he brings the perspective of a doctor that is vital to the national debate ahead. He is smart, funny, and capable of waging not just a campaign but of persuading voters across the country of the importance of conservative reform of health care.
Matt Schultz is the 33 year-old Iowa secretary of state who has been working to clean up voting rolls and taking lots of arrows from the left for doing so. There are lots of alternatives for Republicans looking at the seat left open by Harkin’s announcement Saturday, but rallying to a fresh face would bring the national party the same energy that Cotton or Cruz did to the D.C. gathering.
The candidate recruitment efforts are underway all across America. If the GOP wants to hold the House and seize the Senate, it won’t look for long-time Beltway fixtures, but for relative newcomers who can bring the message in a way that moves volunteers and contributors to believe that the years ahead are even better than those behind.
Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.