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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Why it matters that Republicans at elite universities are rejecting Trump

MICHELLE LEE [CC BY 2.0] / FLICKR
MICHELLE LEE [CC BY 2.0] / FLICKR
GOP organizations at Harvard, Yale and Cornell are putting country over party

While younger voters tend to be reliably liberal, millennials identify more now with traditional Republican values than baby boomers and Gen X-ers did when they were at their age, according to a new study published this month in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

But it’s not clear that the growing number of students espousing conservatism (up eight percent since 1976) are necessarily doing so in support of Donald Trump, underscoring an ever-widening gap that threatens to tear the GOP apart for years to come.

Interviews with Republican leaders on three prominent and politically active campuses — Harvard, Yale and Cornell — show that some young conservatives have more than just reservations about their party’s nominee.

For the first time in its 128-year history, the Harvard Republican Club (HRC) announced August that it would refuse to endorse the GOP nominee in a statement that blasted Trump as racist, misogynistic and antithetical to the club’s values.

“There was no Trump as the first choice,” said Declan Garvey, a fourth-year student currently serving as president of the HRC. “And as the primary went on, it became clear that Trump was not anybody’s second, third, fourth, fifth — down to sixteenth choice.”

In the weeks following the GOP convention in Cleveland, a poll sent out to HRC members yielded only about 10 percent support for Trump, according to Garvey, prompting him and his executive board to come out with the announcement before school started. Their decision was met with national media coverage and general praise, putting pressure on other schools, including Yale and Cornell, to take a position on the Republican nominee.

Neither of these campuses enjoyed a similar harmony in coming out with their own endorsements.

Longtime members of the Yale College Republicans (YCR) broke from the organization after its co-chairs (who declined to comment for this article) decided to back Trump on party grounds. Leaders of the new group that formed in the shake-up, the Yale New Republicans, say that they’re going to focus on reelecting Republican candidates down-ballot, like Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

“Today, in general, people are so tied up on party label — Republican, Democrat — that they fail to look deeper into the candidates and really question: Do they really reaffirm my values?” said Ben Rasmussen, co-chair of the Yale New Republicans and the former Vice President of YCR.

And the Cornell Republicans were officially unrecognized by their overseeing body, the New York Federation of College Republicans, for endorsing Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate and former Republican governor of New Mexico.

“We’re really trying to show people that what’s really important in this election is fiscal conservatism,” said Olivia Corn, chairwoman of the of the Cornell Republicans. “And Gary Johnson is the candidate for fiscal conservatism.”

Cornell Republican’s endorsement points to a free-market and free-love direction that many young conservatives seem to be heading, and one that could have significant impact on the future of the Republican Party. The New York Federation failed to recognize this when it voted to revoke the Cornell organization’s credentials. Corn, who said she was blindsided by these actions, has consulted a lawyer and plans legal recourse.

That’s the strong and proper response required in an election where putting party over country could wind up fatally damaging both.

By affirmatively supporting Johnson — Cornell Republicans plan on helping him attain the 15 percent polling threshold required to make the debate stages — the organization is effectively saying that issues like same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization (Johnson supports both) are not as central to its conservative beliefs as his free-trade and supply-side economic agenda.

This has probably been the inner belief of Republicans in Congress for decades, but it’s not one on which they’ve staked their political fortunes. Republican constituencies constantly vote against their own economic interest because their leaders overstate the importance of social issues and exploit base fears about the moral decline of society. We see the consequence now in Trump.

That is why he must be defeated this November.

His loss could further signal to young Republicans that rooting a campaign in identity politics rather than ideology and policy actually doesn’t increase your odds of winning an election (or at least a national one with increasingly diverse demographics).

Harvard should be commended for helping starting the conversation on colleges on whether their Republican organizations should endorse Trump. The actions of the Yale College Republicans and the New York Federation showed an alarming short-sightedness when they chose to stay the course with a businessman with no relevant political experience.

But if the response from the majority of Republicans at these elite universities is any indication of the GOP’s future, disaster may be stalled out and a better, more tolerant party might emerge.

Of course, the word ‘elite’ should tip you off that these aren’t exactly the voters that have been propelling Trump to the nomination in the first place. The real-estate billionaire from New York is a champion of the common man — particularly the white common man without a college education.

But that doesn’t mean the actions of these young Republicans doesn’t count for nothing — clearly it does when they receive pushback from those supporting a demagogue.

Written by: Eli Flesh — ekflesch@ucdavis.edu

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