“Real leadership is about persuasion, it’s about movement,” said Haley. “It’s about bringing people around to your point of view.”
More than 1,800 enthusiastic high school and college students attended the event at the Hyatt Regency in Houston, where they waited in lengthy lines for Crenshaw campaign t-shirts and photo ops with Crenshaw and Haley, and chanted “USA, USA” in-between speakers.
Other speakers at the summit included former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer, Graham Allen, Allie Stuckey, and baseball legend Roger Clemens.
Most spoke to the students about the importance of resilience, hard work, and living life with purpose.
Former Marine Dakota Meyer described his harrowing battle experiences in Iraq that resulted in him receiving the Medal of Honor, but offered, “Everything in life is about believing in something bigger than yourself.”
Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens told the students he had been a better football than baseball player during his time at local Spring Woods High School, but hard work made the difference: a message he shares with injured veterans in rehab.
“It takes zero talent to hustle,” he quipped.
Event speakers also emphasized traditional values of family and faith, and ardently defended American history and capitalism as superior to socialism.
Graham Allen, the host of the popular “Dear America” podcast, asserted that while America “was never perfect,” it is “great.” He also cautioned that “There is no ‘your truth,’ there’s only the truth.”
“This country was built on the best ideas that humankind has ever had,” said Allen, who was joined on stage by his wife Alyssa.
Allie Stuckey, known as the “Conservative Millennial” and host of the “Relatable” podcast, joined Crenshaw in discussions of faith and politics.
While she warned that “God transcends politics,” she rejected the modern effort to redefine Jesus as a “communist” or “socialist.” She explained that Christian charity is voluntary, and compelled by “the Holy Spirit, which is very different than Bernie Sanders.”
Stuckey added that younger voters are not satisfied with politicians spouting “talking points.” She says the younger generations want transparency and to hear “why” some ideas are incorrect.
In her keynote comments, Nikki Haley defended strong families, religion, and capitalism.
“If you care about inequality, if you want to see the gap between the rich and the poor narrowed, then you should support strong families.”
“If you care about ending the opioid epidemic, you should care about religion, because more often than not, it is faith- a belief in a higher power -that moves people from addiction to recovery.”
“If you care about global poverty, childhood disease, and the environment, then you should support capitalism. Capitalism is the greatest force for ending poverty and lifting up human beings in the history of the world.”
Haley pointed out that in the last 70 years over 4 billion people had been raised out of poverty, “that’s not the result of socialism, it’s because of capitalism.”
But Haley warned that “shouting down” or belittling opponents could not be part of effective leadership and communication. She said students needed to articulate principles persuasively, and she encouraged them to listen to opponents, find areas of agreement, and to “be civil.”
After her speech, Haley sat down with Rep. Crenshaw for a panel session in which they discussed foreign and domestic policy, principles of government, and the challenges of running for office.
Haley said that she ran for the South Carolina State House after her mother told her “Don’t complain, do something.” Haley added, “I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to challenge a 30-year incumbent.”
On foreign policy and trade negotiations with China, Haley asserted that China has been cheating on trade agreements from the beginning and that Americans need to continue to negotiate but make sure the Chinese know “we’re on to them.” She also warned that China is using international financial investments to expand influence throughout the world and strengthening Chinese military resources.
She added, “The biggest long-term threat is China, but the biggest short-term threat is Iran.”
Some students attending the summit will not be old enough to vote for several years, but found inspiration in the discussions.
Thirteen-year-old twins Jessica and Lauren from The Woodlands said they loved hearing from Ambassador Haley.
“She definitely knows how to speak up, and like, she knows her rights and everything. She’s definitely on key with everything,” said Jessica.
Lauren added that while she had been thinking about becoming a lawyer, the event made her want to go into politics.
Patricia Martinez, a senior studying finance at the University of Houston, said she is a big fan of both Crenshaw and Haley, and appreciated the policy discussions.
“I like what Nikki Haley said about being “a policy girl,” and I’m really interested in foreign policy, and what’s happening in China and Iran.”
Fourteen-year-old Hailey told The Texan that she came to the summit because she is concerned about policies that might infringe on 1st and 2nd Amendment rights.
Hailey already knew a lot about the Bill of Rights, but said, “I learned more about the background of some of the [socialist] policies, and about the Democratic Socialism that they’re trying to force on us.”
Congressman Crenshaw plans to make the Youth Summit an annual Texas event.
In that this first event sold out in just three days and required an overflow room, next year’s summit may need a larger venue.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.