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Last week, the Harvard Republican Club chose to endorse President Donald J. Trump for President. This decision is a telling about face from the club’s 2016 stance, when its members — dubbing Trump a “threat to the survival of the Republic” — offered a scathing rebuke of Trump and declined to endorse the Republican nominee.
The Republican Club has every right to endorse the candidate of their choosing; free country and all. But how they could possibly come to this conclusion — the day after Trump’s shameful debate showing, when their predecessors left them a blueprint on how to denounce Trump last election cycle — evades us.
The move strikes a nerve on campus. Hours before their announcement, when asked to denounce white supremacists, Trump told a violent white supremacist group to “stand back and stand by,” then mused that “somebody’s got to do something.” Not only is it impossible to separate an endorsement of Trump from tacit approval of white supremacy, it’s impossible not to see this endorsement as a provocation that willfully belittles other students’ identity and disregards their safety. At a time when a Harvard instructor is being credibly accused of defending neo-Nazi groups like Identity Evropa, the Republican Club’s endorsement serves as a further reminder that our campus is not devoid of those who engage white supremacy.
Their endorsement is telling of national attitudes towards Trump, particularly among educated young conservatives. In 2016, when declining to endorse a candidate, the Harvard Republican Club wrote that Trump’s “authoritarian tendencies and flirtations with fascism are unparalleled in the history of our democracy.” A poll of club members found that an overwhelming majority — 80 percent — would not support Trump. It is on the back of stories like these that liberals have constructed a disturbingly stagnant narrative of Trump’s base that excludes educated young people. The Harvard Republican Club’s 2020 endorsement challenges the narrative of the “reasonable” Republicans — perhaps most obviously young ones, who are educated at liberal institutions — are turning against the president in disdain.
Polling evidence suggests that Trump is consolidating his support among young conservatives. 21 percent of 18-29 year olds backed him against Hillary R. Clinton, while 27 percent have backed him this cycle. These trends suggest Trumpism may well persist in elite conservative circles for a good while.
What made it into the Harvard Republican Club’s endorsement is also telling. Strikingly, concerns about authoritarianism are completely missing from the club’s statement this year — their paltry list of Trump’s “shortcomings” references only his failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and bemoans the broad loss of “dignity and distinction.” Though the 2016 Harvard Republican Club found then-nominee Trump’s “flirtations with fascism” disqualifying, concrete actions speaking to this concern — such as gassing peaceful protesters to snap photos this June and Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power — apparently do not phase the club’s 2020 incarnation. The absence of Trump’s COVID response from their shortcomings list was also felt loudly.
If the Harvard Republicans have learned to spout Trumpisms — the club’s statement included, word-for-word, campaign promises made in a Trump memo— that’s an important data point on how Trump continues to speak to a broadening base of Republican support. As young elites make peace with and even come to embrace his style and politics, an important, scary truth emerges: the Republican Party’s Trumpian elements will continue long after he does.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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