Less than a month before the 2016 presidential election, the executive board of Penn's College Republicans held a vote to condemn President Donald Trump. This was prompted by a September poll showing that 60 percent of the group's constituents did not support Trump in the election.
Since then, however, the group's position towards Trump has shifted. Leaders of the group have noticed increased support for President Trump among its members and a spike in event attendance overall.
“I think Americans in general want to get behind a leader,” Wharton senior and College Republicans President Sean Egan said. “Americans are naturally optimistic, and I think that people want the leader of their country to succeed.”
College junior and College Republicans Director of Communications Rich Murphy said it is important for the group to acknowledge Trump's wrongdoings when they occur, but that there are still actions that Trump has taken that members of College Republicans agree with.
“We should stand up when he does something that’s wrong, like not saying right away that Charlottesville was about white nationalism.” Murphy said. “But some of his actions people have been very happy about, like the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.”
There still remains a diversity of opinions regarding support for Trump among the group’s primarily conservative members, but Murphy said this has not caused any internal issues for the group.
"As a group, we really haven’t struggled with that,” Murphy said. “We don’t have many people who blindly follow Donald Trump. You get together and you see your similarities more than your differences.”
College Republicans has also been making a concerted effort in recent semesters to reach out to more students and broadcast their events to a larger audience. Wharton sophomore and College Republicans Treasurer Worth Gentry said this outreach has paid off.
“Numbers are definitely up," Gentry said. "I would attribute that to the work that our central chairs have done."
As with many conservative groups on college campuses across the nation, the issue of free speech continues to be an area of focus.
Murphy said an issue that concerns many Republicans, particularly those on a college campus like Penn's, is the freedom to voice opposing view points and recognize their legitimacy.
“There does seem to be this overarching free speech issue where people reject an idea because they don’t like it emotionally, without taking it on rationally” Murphy said.
The group remains committed to encouraging healthy debate with students from both sides of the political spectrum, despite the controversial nature of much of today's political discourse.
“What we get at a place like Penn [is] that not everyone is of the same opinion— that would be unhealthy,” Egan said. “We just want to further the conversation and we want to have a respectful dialogue in terms of policy and in terms the future of our country. I think that’s an overall plus to the campus community.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly wrote that the College Republicans voted to condemn Trump. The group had actually held a vote on whether to condemn Trump.
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