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Brown College Republicans officially endorse Trump as other conservatives express hesitation

Republicans, conservatives, libertarians share views on Trump, experiences as political minorities on campus

As a number of prominent Republicans have distanced themselves politically from President Donald Trump ahead of the imminent 2020 election, conservative students at the University are grappling with the decision of whether or not to back their party’s incumbent. 

Brown College Republicans has endorsed President Trump in his bid for re-election after choosing not to do so in 2016, according to Jessica McDonald ’21, the club’s president.

The group decided against supporting Trump in 2016 following concerns among some members over Trump’s temperament, his lack of political experience and his favorability among independent voters, The Herald previously reported. 

Now that Trump has already served a presidential term, current “members are more comfortable” voting for him, McDonald said.

“It’s a discussion we’ve had dating back to last year,” said College Republicans member Christian Diaz de Leon ’21 of the group’s endorsement. “We decided in unison that even if there are some members that aren’t the biggest fans to Trump, it would be best to have a united front in the next election.” Their decision was the result of multiple conversations, but the College Republicans did not hold an official member vote on its endorsement this election, and some members do not support the president’s re-election. 

Despite support for the president from College Republicans — and from other students at the University  — Republican, conservative and libertarian students on campus have expressed split views on Trump. 

A small pocket of students voice strong support for Trump

Support for Trump in the upcoming presidential election has come from a small, yet vocal, pocket of students at the University. According to The Herald’s Spring 2020 poll, just 3.4 percent of undergraduates said they planned on voting for the Republican candidate this November. 

Despite being in the minority, some students are unwavering in their support for Trump’s reelection. 

Emma Phillips ’23 has been one of Trump’s most vocal supporters at the University. Phillips founded the Brown chapter of Students For Trump last spring and completed an internship at the White House this summer. 

Among her reasons for supporting the president, Phillips said Trump’s commitment to protecting the Second Amendment and his pro-life stance have been major factors. Trump is “the most pro-life president that we've had in American history,” she said. “As a woman, that's one of my biggest issues, and I love that he stands for life.” 

Diaz de Leon will also be supporting Trump in his bid for reelection, citing approval of a recent string of peace deals in the Middle East brokered by Trump. “The biggest thing is his anti-war stance,” Diaz de Leon told The Herald. In his view, “we haven’t had a president in a long time that’s been as pro-peace as Trump.”

Diaz de Leon founded the Brown chapter of Turning Point USA, a national organization which mobilizes students to uphold conservative ideology on their campuses. He considers himself more supportive of Trump than many of his peers in College Republicans, which motivated him to launch the TPUSA chapter.  

“They didn’t really like Trump and the new era of conservatives,” Diaz de Leon said. “And it was really frustrating because I liked Donald Trump. He’s our president. I thought we should support him.”

TPUSA’s founder Charlie Kirk sparked protest and debate among students when he spoke on the University’s campus last year at an event hosted by TPUSA at Brown as well as College Republicans.

Other conservative-leaning students express hesitation

While College Republicans is officially endorsing Trump for re-election, McDonald said that many members, particularly libertarian ones, do not support him. College Republicans encompasses a broad swath of political viewpoints at the University — from conservatives who support Trump to moderates and libertarians. 

Adam Shepardson ’22, a member of College Republicans and a libertarian-leaning voter, said he feels neutral toward Trump and will instead cast his vote for third-party candidate Jo Jorgensen.

Shepardson expressed disappointment with Trump’s economic agenda, criticizing the president for failing to control the national debt and for implementing a harsh, “anti-market” immigration policy.

But Shepardson was pleased by other areas of Trump’s agenda — including his support for the Second Amendment, his tax cuts and his judiciary nominations.

Justen Joffe ’23, who identifies as an independent and leans conservative on fiscal policy and some foreign policy, said he could never support a candidate like Trump for president.

Joffe said he supports some of Trump’s policy decisions, such as lowering taxes to decrease unemployment, providing additional funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and brokering peace agreements in the Middle East. While Joffe said that “I don't think he knows what he's doing, and I don’t agree with his process,” he conceded that Trump’s “belligerent” personality has shown surprisingly positive results in brokering peace agreements.

But Joffe also expressed strong disagreement with Trump on his failure to address climate change, his expansion of the federal debt and his response to COVID-19, calling the president willing to “sacrifice Grandma for the sake of the economy.”

“To me, conservatism is virtue that comes with a cost of restraint,” Joffe said. “There is no more unrestrained man than President Trump.” 

Joffe added that he disagrees with Trump not only on policy, but also on the basis of the president’s character. “Just as a citizen of this earth, I can never stand for belligerent racism,” he said. “I cannot stand for the demonization of minorities. I cannot stand for the demonization of women.”

Outside the liberal majority: students talk ideological diversity at Brown

Although some Trump voters are steady in their support for the president and conservative policies, McDonald said it can be “uncomfortable” to be a conservative student on a left-leaning campus.

Despite the initial discomfort McDonald felt as a conservative at Brown, she has become less reluctant to voice her views on campus over time. 

Often, McDonald believes that conservative viewpoints are misrepresented, misunderstood and viewed as extreme, though students at the University are “cordial and respectful, for the most part,” she said. 

McDonald and Diaz de Leon also recognized the criticism conservative students encounter online — in particular, on Dear Blueno, a student-run Facebook page which solicits anonymous submissions from community members. 

Diaz de Leon recalled one Dear Blueno post that referred to Hispanic Americans who support Trump as “Uncle Juans,” a reference to the term “Uncle Tom.” Uncle Tom is a historically disparaging phrase referring to people viewed as betraying their social or cultural allegiance. He told The Herald that the comment surprised him because Brown is “supposed to be the place where people are tolerant and open to ideas and diversity.”

Additionally, Diaz de Leon said that he has received criticism from members of the Brown community for being Hispanic and supporting Trump. The president has repeatedly condemned illegal immigration and disparaged undocumented immigrants from Mexico and other Central American countries. 

But to Diaz de Leon, the Republican Party has “a lot more to offer in common with minority communities” than some may assume, he said. The Hispanic community in particular is “huge on family, huge on religion,” he added. 

Phillips said that although she expected Brown to be a liberal environment, it was a “shock” to “realize how radical some liberals are.” 

Coming from a small town in Oregon, Phillips had never been exposed to “people who openly advocated for socialism.” Encountering some students at the University who aligned with such ideology has pushed Phillips further to the right, she said. 

Shepardson said he hopes that Brown works to create a community that is more accepting of diverse political views.

Similarly, Diaz de Leon argued for unity amid a tense political climate. “We’re all Americans, we’re all going to disagree,” he said, “but at the end of the day, that’s what should unite us.”

With additional reporting by Spencer Schultz

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Justen Joffe ’23, and misquoted him saying: “To me, conservatism is a virtue that comes with a cost of restraint,” when he actually said “To me, conservatism is virtue that comes with a cost of restraint.” Additionally, The Herald misrepresented the home state of Emma Phillips ’23. Phillips is from Oregon, not Washington. The Herald regrets the errors.



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