maga-youth-activist-charlie-kirk’s-big-conservative-shindig-is-full-of-old-folks

MAGA Youth Activist Charlie Kirk’s Big Conservative Shindig Is Full of Old Folks

Charlie Kirk, founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, and Lara Trump, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, speak at Turning Point Action’s “People’s Convention” on June 14, 2024.Adam Dewey/NurPhoto via AP

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Turning Point USA, which casts itself as a conservative political youth movement, appears to be aging. Founded in 2012 by Charlie Kirk, then 18, TPUSA quickly won the backing of rich Republican megadonors eager to try to recapture young voters, who overwhelmingly had been supporting Democrats. The group has since become a staple on college campuses, where it decries “cancel culture” and warns students of encroaching socialism, and has been a major player in Trump world.

In 2019, Kirk started a nonprofit political action committee (PAC), Turning Point Action, to gain more sway in elections. This weekend, the group is hosting a “People’s Convention” in Detroit, with the usual fireworks, klieg lights and rock-concert treatment for an all-star MAGA lineup that includes Donald Trump Jr., Lara Trump, and Donald Trump himself.

Judging from the first two days of the event, it would be hard to call this a youth movement. Saturday morning, I attended a breakout session headlined by voter registration activist Scott Presler. There were about 50 or 60 people in the room, virtually all well over 40. When Presler opened the floor for a Q&A, the first questioner said he was 77 years old.

Waiting in line afterwards to speak to Presler, I met Steve, a registered Democrat from Philly, who said he now felt more at home in MAGA world. I asked him about the age issue, and he suggested that Turning Point Action events were offered to a broader audience than the standard college confabs. Steve is 74, so he should know. He’s more of a contemporary of some of the People’s Convention biggest stars than Kirk is. Also on the speaker lineup: former Trump HUD secretary Ben Carson, 72; Trump advisor Roger Stone, 71; Steve Bannon, 70—and Trump, of course, just turned 78.

There’s further evidence of the conference demographic by the exhibit hall entrance, where attendees are greeted by the huge booth of one of the event’s biggest sponsors: the Association of Mature American Citizens—a conservative alternative to senior citizen powerhouse AARP.

The Association of Mature American Citizens booth at the Turning Point Action “People’s Convention” in Detroit.Stephanie Mencimer/Mother Jones

Copies of the group’s magazine were splayed out on a coffee table in front of comfy couches. The February cover featured the youthful swimmer and anti-trans activist Riley Gaines in cap and goggles as “Woman of the Year.” But inside, I found ads for hearing aids, mobility scooters, and “an alternative to adult diapers for men.”

I’ve come to expect an older crowd at conservative gatherings. Last week I attended Michael Flynn’s ReAwaken America shindig, also near Detroit, and that crowd was even grayer. But Turning Point Action is a favorite of right-wing donors specifically because of the impression that it can connect with the youth vote, and that Kirk, now 30, and his youthful enthusiasm for “Big Government Sucks” memes, will surely help Donald Trump get reelected.

Its actual record in getting candidates elected, especially in its home state of Arizona, isn’t exactly stellar. Among the candidates Turning Point Action has gotten behind is Kari Lake, who lost a bid for Arizona governor in 2022 and is now running for Senate with the group’s endorsement.

Nonetheless, the PAC has pledged to raise and spend more than $100 million to get out the vote this year, and much of the convention is focused on election-related trainings and efforts to encourage more grassroots activism among its foot soldiers. It is hiring full-time staffers at the conference to work in swing states like Arizona and Wisconsin to reach out to “low propensity voters” and bring them to Trump.

“They cannot beat us if we turn out the vote,” Black conservative influencer Brandon Tatum—a former cop who also goes by “The Officer Tatum”—implored convention attendees on Saturday afternoon. Tatum, at least, is 37.