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Why Do Young Republicans Look So Old?

A popular adage ascribed to more politicians than I care to count holds that ideology has much to do with age: “If you aren’t a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart, but if you aren’t a conservative in middle age, you have no head.” What’s the College Republican then to do?

Somehow speed up the process of reaching their flabby 40s.

There are divergent theories of how, for example, Sen. Ted Cruz can be younger than Gwen Stefani yet seem old enough to have been her high school algebra teacher. Some believe that the sheer hate and rage it takes to peddle right-wing opinions make your face and body break down faster. In my view, the converse could be just as true: Perhaps having always resembled a turtle-human mutant hybrid is what fuels the vindictive resentment of conservative policies in the first place. Whatever the phenomenon, we arrive at the same outcome: Eventually you have a corpse-like Steve Bannon wearing three collared shirts under a vintage bomber jacket to keep his mottled lizard skin from sloughing off in a single piece. Could Jack Palkovic of the Berkeley College Republicans be headed down that same road? Here he is shaking hands with white supremacists, looking like he just locked them into an Orlando timeshare deal.

The MAGA hat ages him even more. I swear this guy has a couple grandkids.

And here’s Harlan Z. Hill, a GOP consultant and commentator always eager to remind you that he’s a millennial, maybe so you don’t mistake him for Lou Dobbs after an acid peel. Care to guess when he was born? No, I’ll just tell you: 1990. He’s all of 27 years old.

But hey, it’s not just America’s young reactionaries skipping decades. Check out these Aussie weirdos going for distinctly non-youthful aesthetics in a TV appearance:

The trope is so ingrained that the Onion capitalized on it with a video segment titled “GOP Maintains Solid Hold On Youth That Already Look Like Old Men.”

I think it’s important to note, however, that these guys don’t simply look old — they look old in a young way, as if caught between puberty and a Gold Star Executive membership at Costco. If you study them closely, you notice the pimples and the patchiness of their beards. They’re actually working at this presentation. No, 32-year-old Stephen Miller probably isn’t going bald on purpose or bathing himself in toads to get that perpetual clammy sheen, but I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that a Trumpian 20-something secretly envies the “gravitas” of his decay:

As you’ve no doubt gleaned from experience, or some of the examples above, an essential element of the young conservative’s aging process is the wardrobe: the Polo shirts and khakis, Brooks Brothers suits, sweater vests, bow ties, etc. A YouGov survey of how political affiliation corresponds to clothing found that the Republican youth is less interested in following or creating trends — preferring “classic” ensembles — and less diverse in their garb overall: Just as party functionaries fall in line, they fall into a conformist uniform. Refusing to change with the times, they embrace outdated styles.

I reached out to more than a dozen young and college-aged conservatives on Twitter and Reddit to ask how what they wear communicates their values. None replied. Well, one did, but when I started asking how his sense of fashion evolved, he went quiet. Stylist Todd Hanshaw, however, was happy to explain the sartorial effect that teen and twentysomething conservatives seek. The short answer, he wrote in an email, is that they’re following the advice to “dress for the job you want,” leaning into the square tastes of a right-wing think tanker or Fox News pundit. “Everyone wants to be ‘cool,’” he says, “but the definition of ‘cool’ varies greatly for each individual.” Too right.

The longer answer, Hanshaw explains, is that Americans in general “aren’t as concerned with, nor do they develop, an individual style,” and just a small percentage elevate taste or spark new trends. “Americans tend to follow what they aspire to and don’t think how it looks on them, just that they look like their idol or the person they aspire to be,” he continues. “The young conservatives wouldn’t be taken seriously if they were wearing Gareth Pugh or Rick Owens.” The whole not-caring-if-a-look-works-for-you problem would certainly explain Trump’s rumpled vibe, which Hanshaw described as “unpolished, unfinished and unappealing” in spite of the conservative suits and ties he favors. Likewise, GOP millennials seem more concerned with having the right kind of clothes, not whether they actually fit. The dissonance only heightens the age confusion.

In sum, Hanshaw said, the young Republicans “are dressing to fit in and not disrupt — to be accepted instead of being applauded. In other words, they dress like this because they don’t know better. Hopefully, they’ll come to their senses before they get to positions of power.” Perhaps it’s that straining effort to project themselves into those positions — as the future masters of government — that allows us to search their faces and see the old assholes they yearn to become.

For now, though, these potential mugs are trapped behind unsettling masks of naiveté, struggling toward the destined cracks and wrinkles. The shuddering jowls are still baby fat. The eyes haven’t yet sunk entirely into their leathery pits. The punishments of time are there, though, waiting for fruition.

Suppose that cabinet job is worth it.