21-year-old Juan Pleitez thought he'd be making the drive from Raleigh to Charlotte to cast his vote as a first-time delegate to the Republican National Convention. Instead, he watched from home this week while a much smaller group officially renominated President Trump.
Last week, we heard from a young Democratic delegate from North Carolina. Now, Pleitez — a senior at William Peace University — tells WUNC's Will Michaels about being a Republican delegate, and what conservatism means to him in the Trump era.
Juan Pleitez: I would consider myself more of a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. And I think most young people would consider themselves in that sort of arena as well. I often call myself the middle of the middle. To me conservatism is ensuring a balanced budget, making sure that government works in an efficient way that serves people.
Q: [Republican] Senator Tim Scott, on the first night of the convention, said don't just focus on what the candidates say, focus on what they do. Sort of giving permission for people who may not like what President Trump says, to vote for him. Do you think that's the best way to appeal to voters? How do you think the Republican Party best makes the case for a second term for President Trump?
Pleitez: First of all, it absolutely has to be the economy. We've always been strong on the economy. Specifically North Carolina, the legislature has — since 2010-2012, since Republicans took over the majority — has presided over a time of economic success in North Carolina's history, and I think the winning message is going to be: we've done it before we're going to do it again. And I think having a strong economy will lead to a fairer society. And that's why I think Republicans, if standing on that message, would probably end up winning the election.
Q: But it sounds like you're making the case for the Republican Party, but not necessarily the president. How do you square what you've just been talking about, some of the core values of the Republican Party for a long time, with some of the offensive and inflammatory things President Trump says?
Pleitez: I think that people like the policies, and the booming economy, the stock market, the rolling stock market and stuff like that, but they don't really like Trump's rhetoric or his tweets. And yes, we have an individual that communicates with his base and with his fans and with his following in a certain way that is unique to him. While you know, individually, we may not agree with it, it's his style. Really, what we need to look at is the results over the rhetoric.
Q: It sounds like you're saying, and correct me if I'm wrong, [that] the party is not the man and the man is not the party. But just as an example, more candidates like Madison Cawthorn — who is a congressional candidate, Republican congressional candidate from North Carolina's 11th District — there are more candidates this year like him, who could be described as a far right candidate who staunchly supports President Trump and also posts some arguably controversial and offensive things to social media. Doesn't the president have some sort of influence over the party? And as a young person, how do you see the party further changing in the future?
Pleitez: I think that Trump absolutely has a big amount of influence. I really don't get caught up on specific personalities, you've got the big Turning Point, Charlie Kirk megafans and the Ben Shapiro megafans. And I mean this genuinely, I got into politics and studying it to see how to best serve my community. I started out doing charitable work back in Caldwell County, which is my hometown of Lenoir and there'll be an interesting debate, either now or in four years, what the future of the Republican is after Trump. You know, do we double down on Trumpism? Or do we, you know, sort of go back to more of the growth and opportunity project of 2011-2012, of becoming a more moderate more sort of UK conservative type of party.
Q: And where do you stand on that?
Pleitez: Probably what you'll end up seeing, as it is in most compromised coalitions in big umbrella parties, you'll find a hybrid of both. I'm all for the electability of the party. And so I think that that hybrid model would probably be best.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.