As Vice President of USC's College Republicans, 21-year-old Leesa Danzek has a unique perspective on the party she thinks will come out ahead in the 2016 presidential election.
"So many students come up to me and say, 'I'm fiscally conservative but socially liberal,' and I tell them, 'Welcome to the Republican party,'" said Danzek.
Danzek is about as outspoken a Republican as they come, a rarity among millennials for a party dominated by older voters, overflowing with candidates who span the spectrum from social conservative to libertarian and characterized in the media by Donald Trump, the bombastic candidate Danzek does not classify as Republican.
"He has not outlined anything that is in the Republican Party beliefs," said Danzek. "He just goes on almost a race-baiting mission, and that's not a Republican, that's not a Democrat, that's nothing."
While Danzek does not have a favorite candidate in the 2016 presidential race, she plans to stand behind her party's nominee, which she feels is her role as a registered Republican, and said she thinks the GOP's best bets to beat Trump and to beat the Democratic nominee are Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Supporting the GOP in a historically blue state like California has its drawbacks, sometimes causing Danzek to feel like, in a state with 55 electoral votes, Republicans could not possibly make a difference. However, she feels confident that as millennials' opinions shift, so will their allegiances. To Danzek, the GOP represents limited government and a powerful military, and social issues should not play a deciding role in politics.
"When I look at it from that perspective I go, there's a lot more Republicans in the state than know they're Republicans. They think they're Democrats and they're not. This is the new Republican Party," said Danzek.
Despite her conservative political stance, Danzek supports gay marriage and even views herself as a feminist, laughing at the memory of a liberal opponent once calling her sexist.
"Where on earth in the Republican Party does it say women can't do something?" she asked.
Danzek on Being a Republican Feminist:
Danzek recalled a statement made by Republican candidate Carly Fiorina to the National Federation of Republican Women and in an article penned for Medium.
"She said, you know what, feminism and women's rights is getting to choose what we do, not being told what is right for us," said Danzek.
In the 2016 election, women's issues have been at the forefront of many debates. Several months ago, the federal funding of Planned Parenthood brought Congress close to a shutdown. President Obama has recently spoken out against the wage gap separating men and women and each party has a female front-runner. However, Danzek thinks feminism should not be a government issue.
"I would say there's no room in politics for feminism," she said. Danzek compared reliance on the government for healthcare to a reliance on a husband or parents, asking, "Where in the definition of feminism does it want women to rely on anyone but themselves?"
Growing up in Simi Valley, California, Danzek identified as a far-left Democrat until she reached middle school, saying that the devastating effects the 2008 economic recession had on her middle-class community pulled her to the right. What did not change, however, was Danzek's outspoken attitude. At age 4 she declared to her parents that she would be a vegetarian, a practice she keeps to this day, and in third grade she tried to run away from home to lobby her congressman to stop animal testing.
Danzek on How She Became Involved in the Republican Party:
In contrast, Danzek's parents have never been very politically active. She struggled to attach them to a party, and said her father, a police officer and two-war veteran, has not voted since the 1972 Nixon election.
"Growing up I never really knew what my dad was. He just played devil's advocate," said Danzek.
Although she makes a point to get informed and to participate in political campaigns, whether for the office of president or for local office, she knows her fellow millennials are less politically active.
"The youngest age bracket is the one who votes the least," she said, but she hopes millennials will get informed and vote, because, "Whatever is happening now, we are the ones who will be dealing with it in 10-15 years."
Danzek and her fellow members of College Republicans will knock on doors, make calls and organize debate viewings to engage students and other Republican voters. In November we will find out if the rest of America shares her hope for what she calls the new Republican Party.
Reach contributor Nicole Piper here.