As college Republican organizations disagree on whether to support Donald Trump’s controversial presidential campaign, the Duke College Republicans are choosing to abstain from taking a position on Trump.
Harvard University's Republican Club made headlines during the summer after announcing their intention to not endorse Trump and heavily criticizing his policies. A week later, the Yale College Republicans made the opposite decision—declaring their support. Subsequently, a group of former members split off to form the Yale New Republicans in opposition.
Similar debates have taken place at other institutions. Penn State’s chapter publicly announced it would not support Trump, adding they would not endorse anyone. In response, the Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans has threatened to sanction the group.
The Duke College Republicans have not issued a public statement on the matter. Instead, they are focusing their support on lower-ballot races because the board is split regarding Trump.
“The Duke College Republicans' members come from a diverse and wide array of opinions and backgrounds all along the conservative spectrum,” wrote junior Colin Duffy, DCR chair, in an email. ”Our club has limited time resources, and North Carolina has highly competitive state and local elections this year. Therefore, DCR will be focusing the club's efforts and resources on the gubernatorial and senatorial races.”
The decision not to take an authoritative stance came after significant disagreement within the board, said sophomore Madison Laton, one of the group’s vice-chairs.
Opinions varied, she said, ranging from adamant supporters to those on the fence to adamant opposers.
She noted that a non-endorsement, like theirs, is not the same as the Harvard chapter’s “anti-endorsement.”
“More like abstaining than voting against,” said Laton, who is undecided about whether she supports Trump.
Although Duke’s chapter has not provided an “anti-endorsement,” Republicans at other universities have differing views on whether even a “non-endorsement” betrays the party at large.
Michael Fitzgerald, co-founder of the Yale New Republicans, encouraged people to speak their minds and work to make the party more inclusive. John Lambert, vice-chairman of the national Students for Trump organization—which has about 50 chapters listed on its website—said not endorsing Trump was irresponsible.
"Not endorsing a candidate if you're in a position of power and in politics when we need every hand on deck, is helping the Clintons," Lambert wrote in an email.
Lambert also confirmed that Duke does not have a Students for Trump chapter.
Both Laton and senior Adam Lemon—a former DCR chair who still serves on the board—said the majority of the board does not support Trump. Lemon wrote in an email that half disapproved, and Laton said two-thirds, noting an exact count was difficult.
Instead of focusing on the presidential campaign, Lemon wrote, the group will likely split into three groups. One will deal with presidential matters and one will deal with the re-election of Republican Senator Richard Burr in his race against Democrat Deborah Ross. The last group will support the re-election of Republican Governor Pat McCrory in his race against Democrat Attorney General Roy Cooper.
This system was an ideal compromise to deal with in-group disagreements, Lemon—who referred to himself as a “Never-Trumper”—wrote.
“Colin has done a good job navigating the big splits within the group at present, deciding to split the group up during the election season into teams that are specifically tasked with working on the Presidential race, the Senate race or the Governor's race,” he said. “This way those of us that despise Trump won't have to lift a finger to support him while still being involved in DCR.”
Asked why he did not run for re-election as chair, Lemon wrote that the Trump candidacy played a role. He explained that “the chair is bound to provide some semblance of support to the nominee,” a role he could not fulfill. A desire to mentor the group as a senior also played a role, however.
Even though DCR will have a presidential team, that team will not have authority to endorse Trump or any other candidate, Laton said. Instead, it will likely focus on organizing on-campus events, helping people get registered to vote and connecting with off-campus political groups.
“That’s something everyone can do, no matter who their nominee,” she said. “People can choose to get involved if they want to get involved.”
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