Every generation gets its chance to lead, its opportunity to shine, and leaders from both sides of the aisle emerge to help define their era. The “Greatest Generation” who fought World War II produced leaders and powerful voices from the Right like Ronald Reagan. Then again, this same generation gave us the Kennedy family and Jimmy Carter. The Baby Boomers who followed seem like a disastrously Leftist generation, with the fiasco that was the 1960s and a generation that has given us the likes of Bill & Hillary Clinton and Barack & Michelle Obama. Even some of the most prominent Rightward names from that generation like Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush don’t even come close to the impact of a leader like Reagan.
There’s a new generation beginning to take the reigns of leadership in all areas of society. These post-Baby Boomers (I hate the term “Generation X,” but I’m we’re stuck with it), represent all kinds of points of view, from salient ideas to some really off-the-wall notions. Many of the Left’s leading…umm…lights from this generation speak from the perspectives of Hollywood and the intellectual sphere, while others have begun to make a name for themselves in politics. More encouragingly, there seems to be a groundswell of conservatives under the age of 40 making a splash in Congress, as well as in statewide offices and as writers and pundits.
Here are eight people (well nine really, as one of the entries on this list is a duo) who are under 40 and are making a name for themselves on the Right. Some of these people are already household names, while others are just starting to emerge on the scene. I bristled at using the term “young conservatives,” because many of these people are around my age, and while I don’t consider myself old I wouldn’t use the word “young” to describe myself. I used 40 as a somewhat arbitrary cutoff point. There were several names, like Michelle Malkin, Paul Ryan, and Megyn Kelly, that I would’ve loved to have written about had they not already crossed that threshold.
This list is by no means intended to be exhaustive, so please don’t think if your favorite under 40 conservative isn’t on this list that I don’t think he or she is important. There are plenty more people I could’ve written about, and there are probably names that I haven’t thought of or haven’t heard of.
8. Marco Rubio
At only 39, Marco Rubio has made quite a name for himself as Senator-elect from Florida. After a campaign and race that caught much national attention and won him a national following, Rubio has been called “The Great Right Hope.” This son of Cuban exiles has truly become a phenomenon in conservative circles.
Rubio’s political career began in 2002, when he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he later become the youngest House Speaker in state history. In 2009, he began his Senate campaign, and he surprised many people when he came from behind popular governor Charlie Crist to win the Republican nomination. In the general election he handily fended off Democrat Kendrick Meek and Crist, this time running as an independent and showing more left-leaning tendencies, to win.
Rubio has a history of being a formidable advocate of smaller government. In the Florida House of Representatives, Rubio helped overhaul Florida’s tax system, and he has promoted policies on the campaign trail that would serve to limit the size and scope of government. He has shown himself to be a different kind of politician, shunning personal attacks and promoting a positive brand of conservatism:
He argues that the Republican Party needs to offer up clear alternatives to liberal policy, not just say no, and brighten its tone along the way. Take immigration. “Where Republicans have failed: We should be the pro-legal immigration party, not the anti- illegal immigration party,” he says.
He has been called the “Cuban Barack Obama” for his ability to articulate issues in a way that resonates with people. Bright, articulate, and upbeat, he has also been called “Reagan-esque.” Some have said that he is exceptional in his ability to inspire hope in his audiences. As another prominent Floridian noted:
“He’s the only guy I know on the scene today who makes grown men cry,” says Jeb Bush.
Mr. Rubio is a political protégé of the former Republican governor. They share a preference for (in Mr. Bush’s words) “hopeful aspirationalism” to broaden the party’s appeal. He adds, laughing, that the younger man is a “much better speaker than I am.”
Given his credentials so far and his apparent gift for communication and policy, it’s no stretch to imagine him gunning for the office held by Reagan and Obama.
7. Kristi Noem
South Dakota is a vast state with a small population. Thus, the state has only one representative in the House. To capture a seat like South Dakota’s At-Large seat, a politician, regardless of his or her convictions, has to be astute enough to capture the attention of an entire state. Apparently Kristi Noem is one of those politicians, as she was swept into office in November’s historic elections.
Noem is a South Dakota native who grew up knowing the farming lifestyle well. After she went off to college, Noem’s father passed away, and she returned home to help with the family farm. She put off college, and is currently working on completing her degree. A seasoned businesswoman, she helps run a farm, ranch, and restaurant with her husband and three children. About the only thing negative in her past is her driving record, which includes 20 speeding tickets in 21 years. along with a number of other minor violations.
After two terms in the South Dakota House of Representatives, Noem decided to run for Congress. She fended off two challengers in the primary race to face Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, herself an under-40 politician, in what was dubbed the “hottest race of the year.” One journalist who covered the race referred to Noem as:
a terrific candidate — personable, articulate, attractive, not easily ruffled . . . very polished.
Her opponent and other state Democratic operatives naturally tried to paint her as an extremist and nicknamed her “South Dakota’s Palin,” a name that many on the Right would consider a compliment and an asset, rather than a liability.
Noem’s goals for her tenure in Congress include a 100% pro-life voting record and passing a balanced budget amendment. She is a staunch foe of nationalized health care and gun control.
It is a stretch to think of South Dakota as the breeding ground for an ambitious political career? Well, no one thought of Alaska as much of a political force until Sarah Palin emerged, and South Dakota’s Senator John Thune has become a shining light on the right. Noem’s close alignment with Thune may well set her up for a long political life.
6. Adam Kinzinger
Another member of the Congressional freshman class of 2010 with a fascinating story is Adam Kinzinger. At only 32, Kinzinger defeated incumbent Democrat Debbie Halvorson to represent Illinois’ 11th Congressional district, collecting endorsements from Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Tim Pawlenty along the way. But his political history begins long before this year.
While he was still a student at Illinois State University, Kinzinger ran for and won a seat on the county board. He held the seat until he joined the United States Air Force in 2003. In 2006, he became a hero in a different way when he saved a woman’s life by wrestling her attacker to the ground:
Kinzinger recalls thinking, “This is going to hurt,” as he shoved the man, who lunged toward him and the woman. Kinzinger grabbed the man’s wrist, tossed him to the ground and jumped on top. Kinzinger used his knee to control the man’s hand which held the knife. A passerby ran to a nearby fast-food restaurant to phone police and then helped hold the man. It wasn’t long before they heard a siren approaching.
Another report quoted him as saying:
I knew that this wasn’t something I could wake up to…everyday with that memory that I watched her die.
For his actions, Kinzinger received several awards, including the Red Cross “Hero of the Year” and the Air Force Airman’s Medal and the Valley Forge Cross for Heroism.
Kinzinger advocates a number of classic conservative positions, including support for the Second Amendment, repeal of Obamacare, permanence extension of the Bush tax rates, and defeat of cap-and-trade. With an already long history of public service, a stellar record of heroism, and solid Right-leaning policy, it stands to reason that Kinzinger is primed to have as long as a career in politics as he wants.
5. Nikki Haley
One of the most historic moments in the 2010 elections occurred in South Carolina, where Nikki Haley was elected the state’s first female governor. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she has experienced a meteoric rise to prominence. Haley was first elected to the South Carolina legislature in 2004. During that time, she gained a reputation for conservative leadership, and in 2009 she was named “Friend of the Taxpayer” by the South Carolina Association of Taxpayers.
After announcing her campaign for governor, she collected endorsements from Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party. She led the primary with 49% and handily won the runoff. She fought off ugly racial attacks and accusations of sexual misconduct before winning the general election.
During the campaign, Haley revealed a sweeping, aggressive agenda for South Carolina. One of Haley’s most passionate issues is restoring transparency to a state known for its secretive politics. Her platform included term limits, placing a cap on government spending, and requiring legislators to divulge sources of income. The centerpiece of her agenda for bringing accountability to the state is on-the-record voting:
In 2008, a study by the South Carolina Policy Council revealed that only eight percent of State House votes and only one percent of State Senate votes were recorded. How can the people of South Carolina know how they are being represented when 92 percent of House votes and 99 percent of Senate votes are cloaked in secrecy? The answer is they cannot.
Nikki Haley has long led the fight for on-the-record voting. This past legislative session, a bill to require recorded votes in both chambers of the legislature passed the House unanimously, but failed in the Senate. As Governor, Nikki will work to get it across the finish line, so that South Carolina citizens know once and for all how their elected representatives are voting and spending their money.
Haley has maintained a high profile since winning the governorship, going toe-to-toe with Obama on health care and telling him, “Give us our money back.” She has also garnered attention throughout the South for speaking out on the “port wars” between South Carolina and Georgia. Clearly, Nikki Haley isn’t going away anytime soon, and she may set her sights on national office before too many years go by.
4. Sean Duffy
Sean Duffy’s big break came in 1997, when he was cast on MTV’s iconic reality series The Real World in its sixth season (Boston). OK, so admittedly it’s not the most typical way to jump start a political career, but even then, Duffy, an aspiring lawyer, showed off his conservative chops, often leading to confrontations with his more Leftist housemates.
The truth is, Duffy has been involved in unusual pastimes throughout his life. The tenth of eleven kids, he began logrolling at age five (it’s exactly what it sounds like) and competitive speed climbing at age 13. He is a three-time world champion at the National Lumberjack Championships, which has led to more television exposure as both a competitor and commentator for ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games.
Duffy’s political career began in 2002, when he was appointed District Attorney for Ashland County, Wisconsin and was elected unopposed four times. In 2009, he announced his plans to run for Congress. He defeated Democratic State Senator Julie Lassa in November.
Duffy’s views line up with the Right on pretty much all the issues, including tort reform, strict constructionism, and strong national defense. He appears to be particularly passionate about financial issues. One of the most prominent features of the “Issues” page of his website is his “6 Steps For A Fiscally Responsible Future.” The steps include:
Step 1: Freeze government spending at the 2008 levels.
Step 2: Cancel unspent stimulus and TARP funds and use them to help reduce the deficit.
Step 3: Commit to passing a budget every year.
Step 4: End all bailouts.
Step 5: Put a DNR (do not resuscitate) designation on the Cap-and-Trade Bill.
Step 6: Stop the Democrats tax increases coming in January 2011 to encourage job growth.
Duffy is an astute politician with solid conservative credentials, along with name and face recognition. With that combination of factors, why wouldn’t he have the potential for a long political career?
3. Mike Lee
Utah’s Senator-elect Mike Lee will be the youngest senator when he takes office in January. Though this will be Lee’s first political office, he is no stranger to the national political scene. His father, Rex Lee, served as Assistant Attorney General under President Ford and as Solicitor General under President Reagan.
Lee has spent nearly 15 years practicing law, both in private practice and as a clerk under Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. In the 2010 campaign, Lee won endorsements from the Tea Party, along with Dick Armey, Rick Santorum, and Erick Erickson. He finished first in a field of eight, including incumbent Senator Bob Bennett, in the primary and won the runoff. His primary win was considered an early coup for the Tea Party Movement. He handily defeated Democrat Sam Granato to win the general election, winning all but one county in the state.
Lee’s views are solidly conservative. His positions include curbing entitlements, protecting the unborn, preserving gun rights, maintaing strong national defense, and reigning in government spending. The focal point of his policy statements is his “Five Steps To Return To Limited Government.” They include the following declarations:
End Deficit Spending: A balanced budget amendment is essential to restoring the original, proper role of the federal government.
Strengthen National Security: We maintain peace and freedom when our national defense is strong. We must continue to develop sophisticated, cutting-edge tools and weaponry to defend our citizens from threats of terrorism.
Reform The Tax System: Until we reform the tax code to give all Americans a stake in their government (through the fair or flat tax), Congress will continue to adopt new entitlements, new bailouts, and new relief programs.
Reduce Government Regulations: The answer to an economic downturn is not a government stimulus, but a reduction in government regulation and bureaucracy to allow the natural forces of our private enterprise system to rebound without undue interference.
End The Area Of The Lifetime Politician: A career member of Congress inevitably will come to believe that that body has the answer to all social problems. The Constitution should be amended to limit service in each house of Congress to 12 years.
Lee’s track record in law, family history in politics, and conservative policy positions could very well be the makings of future leadership on the Right. We’ll have to keep an eye on him to see if he lives up to his potential and pedigree.
2. S. E. Cupp
Some of the rising stars on the Right aren’t in the halls of government. They reside in other circles of influence, like the media. S. E. Cupp is one of those. As a writer, pundit, and frequent Fox News guest, Cupp presents her views on the issues of the day with wit, charm, and intelligence. She writes regularly for the New York Daily News Online and The Daily Caller and can be seen and read frequently in other media outlets.
Cupp’s first book, Why You’re Wrong About The Right, co-written with Brett Joshpe and published in 2008, brilliantly debunked some of the long-held myths of conservatives as stuffy old men who wear suits all the time and don’t clap in rhythm (though plenty of folks on the Right happen to fit that description). The success of that book raised her profile tremendously and led to the gigs with the Daily News and The Daily Caller.
In her second book, 2010’s Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attacks On Christianity, Cupp exposes the efforts of the Left to undermine Christianity and its values. Cupp, an atheist, often stands up rather eloquently for traditional Judeo-Christian values, as evidenced by one of her December 2009 columns:
As an atheist myself, I like to think I adhere to the same Judeo-Christian values that most of religious America does. It’s an understanding of and a respect for these values that keeps me moral.
But even if we agree that nonbelievers can be moral people, how would you know? Self-identifying as Christian at least tells you what a person strives for, even if he or she routinely falls short. Self-identifying as an atheist tells you absolutely nothing about my values.
But that doesn’t stop secularists from regularly putting belief and nonbelief on the same plane. Even President Obama equates the two. In his inaugural address, Obama said that we are “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and nonbelievers.” He may as well have thrown dog lovers and Beatles fans in there, for they have as much to do with our religious values as atheism does.
Clearly, Cupp knows how to make the most of her intelligence, humor, and talent (not to mention her beauty), and I can’t help but think we’ll see her role as a pundit and spokeswoman for the Right grow as the years go by. She’s living proof that the best writers on either side of the aisle are the ones who are willing to laugh at themselves as well as others.
1. The Young Cons
Two of the most fascinating guys on the Right come from the world of…rap. You read that right. Josh Riddle and David Rufful are The Young Cons, two talented rappers who spread a message unique to the world of hip-hop: the message of conservatism. Here’s their bio from their website:
The Young Cons are conservative activists, division one college basketball players, Ivy League students, editors for The Dartmouth Review, rappers, bloggers, and co-founders of the 7,800-member Young Conservatives Facebook group. We have a mission to spread the love and logic surrounding true conservatism. In a technological era driven fiercely by the main stream media, those who vocalize the true conservative message of individual responsibility, moral absolutes, and small government are slanted as intolerant, racist, “bible and gun clinging”, corporate fat cats who could not care less about the environment nor the well being of their fellow man. Our group proves otherwise. Our performances are meant to be entertaining, combining both humor with serious commentary. In a day where conservatives are seen as close-minded and archaic, we bring a new perspective to a long-standing philosophy. Instead of sinking into the assemblage of the self-satisfied, we challenge the hearts and minds of Americans with lyrics that expose the true agenda of big government.
Riddle (aka “Stiltz”) and Rufful (aka “Serious C”) have created a singular niche for themselves. I mean, we’ve seen the white guys rapping gimmick before, and we’ve seen the rappers who try to instill positive messages into their music. But I’d just about be willing to bet money that you’ve never seen a rap artist sample Ronald Reagan, or name-drop conservative writers and pundits, all the while making sure not to take themselves too seriously, yet taking their message completely seriously.
Whether you like rap or not, I think pretty much any of us on the Right can appreciate how these two do what they do. They’ve discovered so many ways to get their message out, with T-shirts, singles on iTunes, and YouTube videos. They’ve made the most of Twitter and Facebook as ways to interact with their fans. I hope The Young Cons will go far. Why not turn your speakers up and check them out:
2010 has been an important year for the conservative movement: they defeated so-called liberals in election after election and, more importantly, a big group of promising conservatives are starting to have an impact. Judging by this list – and many other young conservatives to watch were left off – conservatism’s future will be bright indeed.