Mercedes Schlapp was delivering a warning about the dangers of young Americans' support for socialism when she turned to face the thousands of conservatives in the crowd.
"Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles — this is your responsibility," Schlapp, a columnist at the Washington Times, told a Conservative Political Action Conference event on Thursday. "You have to take this message to your children and your nieces and nephews."
Schlapp was moderating a panel titled "FREE-stuff vs. FREE-dom: Millennials' love affair with Bernie Sanders." It was both an exploration of young people's skepticism toward capitalism and a brainstorming session for what should be done about it.
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"The old story used to be, 'Wait until they have a mortgage, and then they'll become conservative,'" said Timothy F. Mooney, an attendee who is a partner at the Republican political consulting firm Silver Bullet. "I honestly don't think that's true anymore."
This week marks a celebratory moment for attendees of CPAC — the first such conference since Republicans captured both branches of Congress and the White House this November. But beneath much of the enthusiasm, some conservatives here acknowledge they're also worried that their recent victories could be undone by a generational shift toward the left.
After all, "democratic socialist" Bernie Sanders won more votes from those under 30 than any other presidential candidate in primary history. Donald Trump is wildly unpopular with people under 30 (they disapprove of his job performance by a 67-25 margin, according to Pew), and millennials will soon be the country's biggest voting bloc. And polls show that, for the first time ever, young people are more supportive of "socialism" than "capitalism."
Conservatives and free market adherents are well aware of the trend-lines — and wrestling with their response.