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College Republicans split on post-Trump future, reflecting national GOP divisions

Members express some support for Florida Gov. DeSantis in 2024, Students for Trump currently inactive

As the Republican Party wrestles with how to define itself in the post-Trump era,  Brown College Republicans finds itself in the same boat. 

With the defeat of former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, the political right is being forced to choose a path forward — whether to distance the party from Trumpism, or to retain the former president’s vision. Last weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump’s presence and the warm reception he received revealed his lasting influence on the party. Trump stated at the conference that his political activity is “far from being over.” Still, conservative lawmakers are largely split on Trumpism. 

Brown College Republicans President Jessica McDonald ’21 said that the club is currently “seeing the exact same debate” as the GOP nationally. 

“We have some strong Trump supporters who are full-out Trump — they’re ready for 2024, super energized by his CPAC speech,” McDonald said. Other members are hoping “to distance themselves” from Trump, looking for a “more moderate … toned-down version” of the former president.

Some Republicans have turned away from Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, as have some members of College Republicans, McDonald added. 

Following the insurrection, support for Trump among club members waned. But much of the disillusionment with the former president was fleeting, and he regained some members’ support following the Senate’s acquittal of him in his second impeachment trial. 

“Everyone was pretty quick to condemn the violence, obviously,” McDonald said. But “after the (impeachment trial), people just saw it as sort of another attack on Trump and another failed impeachment.”

McDonald, along with College Republicans Vice President Christian Diaz de Leon ’21 and member Jack Wolfsohn ’23, said that many in the club have expressed support for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for a presidential run in 2024. 

DeSantis, Wolfsohn said, “is a smart politician and has much of the same appeal as Trump, but is more eloquent and understands the issues better.”

Trump won 55 percent of the first CPAC 2024 presidential straw poll. DeSantis won 43 percent of the second poll that did not include Trump.

“The Trump movement is here to stay within the Republican club, but they might rebrand it and refocus it on someone like DeSantis, who I think embodies a lot of Trump’s spirit with a … more favorable personality,” Diaz de Leon said. 

Diaz de Leon was also co-president of Students for Trump at Brown, a club which he described as “currently inactive.” He said he believes the group’s leadership is “fine with disbanding the club,” especially considering they will have graduated by the next presidential cycle. 

“Unless Trump decides to run for a … (congressional) seat in Florida in 2022, I'm not really sure how much we can do with the club,” he said. 

Diaz de Leon added that he believes Trump “still has the popularity in the party to win the (2024 Republican) nomination.”

“If Trump wants to run, he’s going to win the primaries for sure,” Diaz de Leon said. “Even his political opponents (have agreed). (Sen.) Mitt Romney said something similar in the past couple of weeks. (Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell, who went against Trump during the whole impeachment process said that if Trump was the nominee, he would support him.”

Both Diaz de Leon and McDonald also cited Trump’s age as a potential deterring factor for Republican voters in 2024. By the next election, Trump will be 78 — the same age as current President Biden.

College Republicans are ultimately split on Trumpism and the future of the GOP, according to McDonald, who says the division reflects the ideological diversity of the club’s membership.

“The Republican Party is a big tent,” Wolfsohn said, “and the Brown College Republicans reflect that.”


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