When President Donald Trump rose to prominence in the divisive election of 2016, Penn College Republicans made an active choice against endorsing President Trump. With midterm season looming, the political group at Trump’s alma mater will have to decide again whether to align itself with the 1968 Wharton graduate.
During the start of the school year in 2016, a poll conducted by College Republicans revealed 60 percent of College Republican members do not support Trump. When asked about the consensus of the group two years later, College senior and Executive Director of College Republicans Richard Murphy said it would be hard to determine where people stand.
“I would definitely say there’s no clear consensus [on Trump]," Murphy said. “Some people are like 'I definitely shouldn’t have voted for the guy,' some people voted for Clinton and wish they’d voted for Trump."
But Wharton senior and Vice President of College Republicans Owen O’Hare said regardless of group members' converging opinions toward Trump, the president's endorsement of a midterm candidate will not influence the club’s decision to endorse.
“We’re not the type of club that would support a candidate because Trump is supporting them," O'Hare said. "I think you have to look at each candidate on a candidate-by-candidate basis."
Murphy agreed, adding that the club is not influenced by Trump's midterm choices.
"There is an overlap in who Trump likes and who we like, but I think that’s going to be the case with any Republican candidates," Murphy said. "We’re not like an anti-Trump group obviously.”
O'Hare said that in the past, the club had decided which candidates to support through a democratic process. Executive board members conduct a poll to gather opinions of all club members and work closely with the deputy board to establish a consensus. Murphy said they hope to follow the same process this election season, although the group has not officially endorsed any candidates.
Now, with College Republicans membership at an all-time high, club leaders said the breakdown of how people fall on the political spectrum may have shifted.
“I would say disagreement is welcomed honestly,” Murphy said. “It’s a very open minded group […] a lot of people have their own opinions about things like gun control or abortion, people don’t necessarily vote just for what the party votes for."
Huntsman junior and general College Republicans member Michael Moroz said there has been a lot of disagreement within the group, particularly over the decision on whether or not to support Trump. He added that College Republicans members sometimes feel pressure to "moderate rhetoric" to make themselves sound different from Trump, even when they likely agree with him on a policy level.
"I think, given that we're on a very liberal college campus, there can be an instinct to moderate oneself too much," Moroz said. "If you had to ask most [College Republicans] members, 'Do you agree with Trump on X policy?' I think most people will agree, but there are minor differences in the delivery of those policies."
To combat what they say is a minority political opinion on campus, College Republicans leaders plan to place emphasis on encouraging conservative thought and discussion while finalizing their plans for the midterms.
As for Trump and his influence on the group, College Republicans is still debating.
“The group has also gotten bigger,so in general, conservatism on the rise," Murphy said. "But Trumpism — hard to say."