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After the GOP lost the presidential election in 2012, Republican leaders said a big priority for the party was to reach out to Hispanics, African-Americans and millennials. But this time around with Donald Trump as its nominee, the party's struggles to attract those voters has only gotten worse. This frustrates many young conservatives, as NPR's Don Gonyea found out when he paid a return visit to a group of college Republicans he first met almost four years ago.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It was early 2013 and more than a dozen college Republicans crowded around a table in the student union at Ohio State University to talk about the future of their party. Mitt Romney's defeat was still fresh, and it still stung.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I don't want us to panic. We do need serious changes in terms of the way we reach out to different demographics.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We don't know how to brand our message. We are getting outworked on that.
DAN MORGANO: I would go on Twitter and I'd see Obama promoted. I'd go on YouTube and there'd be an Obama ad. I'd go on Pandora and there's an Obama ad. I never heard anything from Romney when I was online.
GONYEA: Still, on that day at Ohio State in 2013, there were already high hopes for 2016, with buzz about new faces ready to step up - Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, Governor Nikki Haley and...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Marco Rubio was on the cover of Time magazine pretty much looking majestic.
GONYEA: Is he the Republican savior?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I wouldn't say savior, but...
SHANAE BROWN: He's definitely sending the party in the right direction.
GONYEA: That last voice was Shanae Brown. Today, she's a physician's assistant with plans for med school. She's back home in the Cleveland area, saying it's a fun time to be in the city with a World Series and the reigning NBA champions.
BROWN: It's a good feeling. Our teams are winning. Like, people are just more positive around here for a change.
GONYEA: So excitement about her hometown, but how's this young political activist feeling about the 2016 election?
BROWN: Oh, I'm apathetic right now. I've kind of been taking a backseat watching everything, trying to understand, like, where the country's coming from in bringing Donald Trump up to be our leader of the party, you know?
GONYEA: She says she's likely voting Trump, but not with any enthusiasm.
BROWN: I'm going to go with the party, you know?
GONYEA: Brown, who is African-American, says she doesn't factor race into her political decisions. She does think the GOP can bounce back from any problems Trump is creating for its efforts to diversify. But you can hear the frustration.
BROWN: I believe it will take time. But at some point, someone will emerge. But as it stands now, I couldn't see who it would be. No one's really making it clear. Everyone's so focused on Trump. No one's focus on moving forward yet.
GONYEA: Twenty-three-year-old Dan Morgano is also struggling with this year's choice. Now a grad student working on his doctorate, he's the one you heard grumbling about how Democrats dominated on social media back in 2012. The irony, he says, is that Trump on Twitter is a king of social media. But Morgado says the candidate's message is wrong.
MORGANO: Seems like a lot of his tweets are focused on him and not either his policy or, you know, the direction he wants to take the country.
GONYEA: Morgano says right now his candidate is libertarian Gary Johnson, and, he says, the GOP needs to figure out how to connect with voters that see it as the enemy. He cites the Black Lives Matter movement Republicans, including Trump, have used harsh language to criticize that group, saying there's a war on cops.
MORGANO: It's fighting them in a way that you shouldn't be fighting them. You should be trying to understand why they're angry and upset and protesting and find the common ground between the two sides and work on that common ground.
GONYEA: Now we head three hours southwest to a suburb of Dayton.
All right, I'll let you...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Grab some...
NIRAJ ANTANI: We don't have district offices. Yeah, my truck is quite messy just 'cause, you know, it's my office.
GONYEA: That's State Representative Niraj Antani. He is the son of immigrants from India. He's former president of the Ohio State College Republicans. Four years ago, Antani was one of those students calling for a more diverse GOP. But he doesn't blame Trump for any lack of progress to that end.
ANTANI: I remember being on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland when Donald Trump in his speech did a shout-out to to gay voters, and the base didn't turn on him.
GONYEA: He says it's the Republican leadership that hasn't done enough to adapt to the changing demographics of the country. They identified the problem in the so-called GOP autopsy report from 2013. But Antani says the party hasn't established a persistent presence on college campuses for starters.
ANTANI: So number one, you've got to show up, right? You've got to think you can win the vote. And the same goes for minority communities, right? You've got to show up.
GONYEA: Antani says the party does need to broaden its appeal to survive long-term. And he believes it can do so without compromising its core principles. But this election demonstrates how hard of a task that is. Don Gonyea, NPR News.
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