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A Plurality of Republican Club Members Support Johnson

The sights inside Harvard’s Institute of Politics during the first presidential debate of the 2016 general election.
The sights inside Harvard’s Institute of Politics during the first presidential debate of the 2016 general election.
By Derek G. Xiao, Crimson Staff Writer

Nearly half of decided Harvard College Republicans not backing Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump have instead opted to support Libertarian Party nominee Gary E. Johnson, according to club president Declan P. Garvey ’17.

In a straw poll first sent to club members over the summer, 76 percent of respondents declined to support Trump, while 12 percent supported Trump, and 12 percent were unsure, Garvey said.

Harvard affiliates watched the first presidential debate last week.
Harvard affiliates watched the first presidential debate last week. By Thomas W. Franck

Of those who disavowed Trump, 47 percent planned to support Johnson, 26 percent planned to support Democratic nominee Hillary R. Clinton, and 26 percent said they would back other candidates.

Overall, a plurality, or 36 percent of respondents, said they supported Johnson.

Earlier this summer, the Republican Club denounced Trump in a scathing statement, citing “both policy and temperamental concerns” about the Republican standard-bearer. The decision is the first time that the club–the oldest college Republican chapter in the country–declined to endorse their party’s presidential nominee since the group’s founding in 1888.

Kiera O’Brien ’20, a Republican Club member who supports Johnson, wrote in an email that she did not believe either major party candidate represented her political values.

“I originally supported Rubio, and now I find myself unable to get behind Trump, similar to many other members of the Harvard Republican Club,” she wrote.

She added, “For me, voting for Johnson is a not a wasted vote, since… I believe [it] sends a message that many of us are unhappy with the major party candidates on the ballot.”

But not all club members believe Johnson is the appropriate conservative alternative to Trump.

“As far as protest votes go, Johnson is a pretty poor vehicle because he would not make for a particularly good president,” John S. Acton ’17 said.

“Of course, if I was forced to choose between Johnson, Trump, and Clinton, Johnson would probably be the best president of the three,” he added.

Instead, Acton said he was supporting independent presidential candidate D. Evan McMullin, who Acton said he saw as the “only conservative on the ballot.”

Garvey said the Republican Club is happy to see such conversation about the presidential elections within the club, even as the club itself is focusing on down-ballot races.

“I think the HRC really stands by a concept of big-tent conservatism, in which we’re able to look at different issues with all different types of viewpoints,” Garvey said.

Although the Republican Club is not supporting any presidential candidate through official club events, it still communicates with various conservative campaigns to pass along information to interested club members, Garvey said.

As an example, Garvey mentioned that the club had previously been in touch with both the Johnson campaign and a super PAC supporting the Libertarian candidate.

Before the semester began, Johnson and his vice presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld ’66, held a rally on Boston Common, which several Republican Club members attended.

“It was certainly not an official HRC event in support of the Johnson campaign, but the club is glad to connect students,” Garvey said.

O’Brien, who attended the rally, said she plans to participate in phone banks for Johnson with the Harvard Libertarian Forum.

—Staff writer Derek G. Xiao can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @derekgxiao.

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