The country’s most famous fictional Democrat inspired 18-year-old Benyam Capel to get involved in Republican Party politics.
Capel is the director of millennial outreach for Republican Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, and his interest in politics was sparked by watching “The West Wing” with his mother, starting in his freshman year of high school.
Yes, Josiah Bartlet was a Democrat and Capel, the youngest of 14 children raised in “a very strict household,” already identified as conservative. But the show was bipartisan, he said, in the way it depicted politics as the collective actions of people who want to make the country a better place.
“It was so idealistic,” he said. “Even if they disagreed, they were all trying to make the world a better place. It gave more of a vision of what politics could be instead of what it is, but I thought that as long as it could be that, I wanted to be part of it.
“At the end of the day, they were fighting to make America a better place for those who live here, and that’s what called to me.”
Capel was adopted from Ethiopia, as were several of his siblings. His parents, Mike and Lindy Capel, have seven biological children and seven adopted children. He grew up between Douglas County, Parker and Denver. He attended one semester at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, then snagged an internship with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, then got a full-time position with the Glenn campaign.
Capel said he’ll work in politics until it becomes necessary to go back to school. His job includes making sure the campaign is represented on college campuses and working with Young Republicans.
Is it hard to sell the Republican Party to younger voters?
Yes and no, Capel said.
“There is a stigma,” he said. “They view us as the party of the old racist man who lives down the block, instead of the party that is fighting for individual freedom and liberties, which is the party as I know it.”
Capel specifically mentioned the party’s anti-gay positions as contributing to that stigma. He said he thinks the party has moved beyond that in recent years.
(Venture capitalist Peter Thiel declared he was proud to be gay and Republican at the convention, even as the party adopted what gay conservatives have called the most anti-LGBT platform in the party’s history.)
Part of the challenge is explaining conservative positions better to young voters. Part of the challenge is getting the party to be consistently conservative.
“Let’s talk about true conservatism. It means we want the government out of our lives, and we need to stand behind that,” he said. “When I make a decision, I want it to be between me, my family, my employer and my God.”
But when Republican Party policies are framed in that light, Capel said younger voters are receptive. He thinks the party speaks to concerns about the economy and about national security that are shared by young and old.
“Democrats have had a strangehold on millennial voters, and they haven’t done enough to earn it,” he said.
His presence as a young black man in the campaign of a black conservative candidate helps challenge stereotypes and suggest new possibilities, Capel said.
“When they see me and the rest of our staff, which is filled with young men and women, and the candidate is a black, military, conservative man, that shakes up preconceived notions,” he said.