by Kevin Fenchak
In Elaine Godfrey’s piece on the civil war taking place in College Republicans chapters across the country, the left-leaning Atlantic spends surprisingly little time disparaging Trump’s populist base, astounding for a magazine known as a magnet for GOP establishment whiners and former NYT writers. Among the representatives of this movement at Penn State, the piece has been surprisingly well-received. In fact, Godfrey gets certain things right that most coverage of the divide within the Republican party misses, or at least drops the high-and-mighty tone most of our own movement conservatives use when discussing it. Indeed, she highlights the essence of the Republican split, with the two opposing camps largely defined by their level of satisfaction with the party’s pre-Trump direction and ability.
It’s not for nothing that Penn State’s Republican civil war receives the most attention, although UCF, ASU, and UC Davis’ College Republicans get some airtime as well. Penn State is perhaps the best example for a microcosm of the larger political divides, featuring an anemic and struggling Democratic organization, a motley collection of Sandernistas and Trotskyite socialists on the far left, a corrupt and weak-willed Republican establishment, and a right-wing populist insurgency in roughly equal parts.
While the Democrats waffle between indulging radical leftist students and maintaining a respectable façade, usually coming out somewhere in the academic-leftist “center”, the Republicans are mostly concerned with maintaining their funding and the slim majority that enables them to keep their crumbling toehold. The much less talked-about Democrat civil war is, of course, not today’s topic, although it does deserve a more detailed treatment. The short version of the story is that Penn State’s College Republicans, by joining the thin ranks of those collegiate organizations which refused to support the Republican presidential nominee, set off a firestorm of populist backlash which has changed the campus political landscape dramatically.
Penn State’s “Bull Moose Party” (so named because PSU Student Associations balked at registering “We Are For Trump”, although the name recalling Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 third-party bid does have a certain je ne sais quoi) is certainly the centerpiece of this unfolding battle. Again, Godfrey is practically spot-on in characterizing this opponent to the RINO establishment, saying that “Bull-Moose Party members argue that the next generation of conservatives should be pushing for the populist, anti-establishment candidates—not just people who identify as Republican.” And why should they?
Most establishment Republicans are only concerned with tax cuts, obsessing over Obamacare, and promoting vague “values” which always involve prostrating themselves before the left’s cultural critiques. The furthest they’ll go is to attack various low-hanging fruit like neon-haired 20-year-old SJWs or the few remaining holdout zealots of socialist economic theory.
While few in the BMP or the larger dissident right have much to say against tax cuts or respect for religious values, there is a widespread perception that the Republicans have done nothing on issues of critical national importance, first among these being immigration. Instead, the GOP hands us sanctimonious morons like Flake, McCain, and Graham who make up a clique set in opposition to the President’s most popular policy initiatives. Meanwhile, the previous alternative, the libertarian “right”, has totally capitulated on national sovereignty in favor of flapping their gums about the morality of taxation or in defense of narcotics and prostitution. The Freedom Caucus might be a valuable political ally, and the libertarian-conservative traditionalists well-founded, but the big-L Libertarian grassroots are nothing short of a disaster zone. No wonder some people finally stood up and cried “enough!”
However, not all is well with a simple analysis of these fracture points. The refusal of the “Trumpists” to line up behind the flabby collegiate representatives of movement conservatism caused some consternation in the establishment, and produced huge enthusiasm among the supporters of Trumpian populism on campus. Godfrey does, of course, rightly hand former PSUCRs president Michael Straw most of the credit for this split, although she handles him far too gently considering his role in the debacle.
Straw, who admitted in a public College Republicans Facebook page to registering as a Democrat in 2017, stoked outrage by holding a secret vote on whether the CRs should endorse Trump over the summer by email, a tiny detail left out by this article. Holding a vote a week before the semester begins over email, which few students check regularly over breaks, casts a lot of doubt on Straw’s claim to innocence. It has been confirmed that notification of this vote was only given a day beforehand and only open for twelve hours – leaving any students who did not check their email or GroupMe notifications for a day, during the summer when many are occupied with other concerns, out in the cold. Additionally, students who wished to participate in the Fall semester would not have had an opportunity to pay dues and become voting members. This seems to be the perfect timing for obtaining the most restricted voting pool possible.
Why not hold a public and legitimate vote a week later, if the objective was to have a fair appraisal of the wishes of the club? Rather, a rational observer must draw from the available information that his intent was to achieve a strategic advantage by mobilizing his own supporters ahead of time and holding a fraudulent vote – and even then, because the results are allegedly counted by electronic submission and a secret ballot, there is no oversight beyond the handful of officers who had control over the voting. With the obvious tight collaboration of the board, there isn’t even a semblance of expectation for fair play.
Now, of course, there is further background to this which paints a far-less-than-flattering image of Straw’s presidency and the CRs leadership in general. Straw is, to any casual observer, decidedly not a conservative, nor even a committed Republican, and likely has not been for quite some time. Commonly known in Penn State’s conservative circles as self-interested and, well, a RINO, when he was known at all, his public social media pages reveal strong support for LGBT, social progressive, and even outright Democratic Party interests.
He was also, and may still remain, secretary of an organization promoting “LGBTQA rights in Centre County,” alongside individuals known to participate in decidedly leftist politics. For an organization like the CRs, which regularly engages in talking points against identity politics from both left and right, their former president sure placed a high premium, as many gay men do, on his sexual identity, and had no hesitation in engaging politically along these lines. I guess his opinions have “evolved” over time. Some representative of campus conservatism he is.
Of course, because the level of nepotism in the Penn State College Republicans is just boringly predictable, the current President, Grant Worley, and Vice President, Reagan McCarthy, were Straw’s VP and THON Chair, respectively, making them willing participants in his executive board. Seeing as these two witnessed the chaos, disillusionment, and loss of confidence in leadership under Michael Straw, complete with a rupture in the party that birthed the Bull Moose organization, threats of expulsion by the State chapter, and even ludicrously lazy plagiarism being exposed by campus media, you’d figure they would reverse course, right? Unfortunately, when dealing with individuals whose life’s highest aspiration is to serve as mid-level apparatchiks for the GOP, their actions usually follow the path of least resistance to advancing their careers, and obviously they’ve tied themselves to the mast of the sinking establishment ship.
McCarthy’s own assumption of office has been cast under doubt amid swirling accusations of voting fraud, following the same pattern of shady online voting “monitored” by the current president, Grant Worley, without the appointment of an elections commissioner, which they justified by pointing to ambiguous language in the club’s constitution. The State Patriot has it on good information from a source in the College Republicans that this vote was improperly handled, with absentee votes being received up to minutes before the final count, in defiance of a constitutional mandate that all absentee votes be received 24 hours in advance of any physical vote.
Predictably, Worley and McCarthy have been subject to many of the same criticisms as Straw, doing little if anything to advance activism, using their positions to gain access to establishment GOP resources and opportunities, neglecting the wishes of the club’s members, and, of course, general shady activities related to their positions. An anemic performance in their annual “truth week” (really two days) of guest speakers sparked an uproar from members, angry over the failure to obtain any kind of success with members’ hard-earned money.
College Republicans has by now been almost entirely eclipsed by both the Bull Moose Party and the more right-libertarian Turning Point USA. Bull Moose’s support for candidate Trump was enormous and made up the core of the presidential campaign in Centre Country, resulting in strong relationships with state and county GOP and in Eric Trump’s visit to State College in the critical days before the election. TPUSA regularly attracts a far more talkative, enthusiastic, and motivated crowd than the CRs.
So, what place is left for the milquetoast, center-left Republican establishment on campus? Its leadership is dogged by accusations of impropriety, its activist role is fading into nonexistence, and it can’t even muster up the courage to stand up for the Republican base against the left’s campaigns of whining and moralizing. Far from attempting to position itself to benefit from the surge of conservative enthusiasm in recent years, it has moved to oppose it, at its own peril. Judging by Elaine Godfrey’s article, this has played out similarly all across the country – Trump’s populist, anti-immigration, anti-free-trade base fighting to force change on a collegiate establishment, which is every bit as ossified and corrupt as its national representatives. The establishment base is in the baby-boomer generation, not the youth. The future of Trumpism is on campus, indeed, and it is coming at the expense of the sleazebags who have run movement conservatism into the ground. The days where these shysters could safely ride tiny non-confrontational collegiate political establishments into comfortable middle-management jobs is over.