Republicans have long struggled to capture the hearts of millennials. It's never helped that the emerging crop of young voters are fundamentally opposed to the GOP's archaic social policies and general inclination toward stupidity. But the party of Big Business thinks it has found a wedge issue in Silicon Valley that can seduce skeptical kids: backing anti-regulation startups like Uber.
In an email blast sent out early this morning titled "Our cities need Uber," the GOP declares "Free markets work," praising Uber's surge pricing business model and innovative spirit. As the Republican Party puts it:
Uber is an alternative to taxis. They pay their own drivers, handle their own licensing and background checks, and set their prices based on market demand, not flat fees.
With a business model based on market demand, their cabs are typically cleaner, more dependable and more economical than normal union-regulated taxis.
The GOP then points their followers to a petition (a petition to whom, they don't specify) that expresses "Support [for] innovative companies like Uber." And the petition makes it plenty clear that America's benevolent entrepreneurs have an enemy:
[Across] the country, taxi unions and liberal government bureaucrats are setting up roadblocks, issuing strangling regulations and implementing unnecessary red tape to block Uber from doing business in their cities.
We must stand up for our free market principles, entrepreneurial spirit and economic freedom.
The Republicans' race to embrace the $17 billion transportation startup has been building momentum for some time now, so formally declaring the party's support comes as no surprise.
In March, Florida Senator Marco Rubio—and rumored 2016 presidential candidate—made a trip to Uber's Washington office to praise the startup and scold regulators.
"Regulations should always be used as a way to help the public and ensure safety," Rubio told the startup's employees. "It should never be used as a tool of anti-competitive activity."
Republican Senator Rand Paul has been similarly using Uber to exemplify his distaste for government regulation. According to the New York Times, in a recent speech to "young, conservative techies in San Francisco," the fellow 2016 president hopeful explained that a five-star rating system can replace safety regulations.
Dressed in faded jeans and a crisp white button-down shirt, Mr. Paul said Internet technology makes obsolete many government functions almost by existing.
"The crowd wants good service — you rate your Uber driver, your stay at a hotel," he said. "As information becomes more widespread, maybe you need less and less government."
But no one has insisted that the Republican Party rally behind Silicon Valley like Grover Norquist. The anti-tax fanatic, who once declared "Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature," has been pushing the GOP towards "disruptive" startups like Uber all summer, calling it "an opportunity for Republicans."
Today there are two political parties/movements in America. One is UBER, other is with taxi commission. Choose.
— Grover Norquist (@GroverNorquist) June 26, 2014
In an op-ed published by Reuters, Norquist argues that companies like Uber and Airbnb make Democrats vulnerable in cities, where the party has traditionally held much of its power. According to Norquist, Democrats are beholden to taxi and hotel unions, whose power is challenged by these companies. Ipso facto, the GOP can turn Uber users into party supporters:
As of last year, for the first time since the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project began keeping track, the majority of American adults now have a smartphone that is the basis for so many of these new peer-to-peer businesses and startups. The share economy is not going anywhere. So Democrats, given the makeup of their coalition, face some serious issues.
Politically, this presents an opportunity for Republicans to make a comeback in cities. By championing the often disruptive share-economy businesses, defending them against the status quo and focusing their political campaigns on these issues, the GOP can show it is the party that embraces companies that improve the quality of life in cities.
Of course, framing taxi regulation strictly as "anti-competitive" is a convenient line for the GOP, albeit a dishonest one. Many taxi regulations involve safety, licensing, and mandating thorough background checks—the latter being something that is notoriously easy to bypass at Uber.
And while the GOP applauds Uber's self-regulation, it's hard to ignore the slew of alleged sexual assaults, kidnappings, and other safety incidents that have occurred ever since the company instituted its $1 Safe Rides Fee.
But none of that matters. With millions of dollars in potential donations up for grabs in Silicon Valley, and poll numbers on Uber's side, the Republican Party will say whatever it needs to while claiming the Valley's cause as their own.
Below, the full GOP email blast:
Email: Cameron Erickson