Why the NDCR should hop off the Trump train
Letter to the Editor | Monday, September 12, 2016
In the closing weeks of the summer, the Harvard Republican Club posted a thorough denouncement of its party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Four days later, the Notre Dame College Republicans released a similar statement on Facebook — announcing instead its support for that same candidate. If the latter club plans to maintain any relevance in the political discussion on this University’s campus, it should rescind their support as soon as it can get around to typing 500 words of political reframing.
The argument against Trump has become a cliche at this point, with two main parts: first, give a brief litany of the shocking statements and controversies that have entertained the 24-hour news channels for the past 14 months. This usually starts with the time he called former POW John McCain “not a war hero” and ends with his most recent colorful outburst, which conveniently refreshes itself about twice a week. Second, elaborate on said most recent outburst and claim that this is the one step too far — that mainstream Republicans cannot possibly continue to support him after this one thing that is just too offensive, too explosive, too racially charged.
Four months after Trump became the presumptive nominee, the national Republican wall of support for him still resembles a pack of exasperated court-appointed public defenders whose client seems determined to secure his own conviction. The cycle has become pathetically repetitive: Trump goes off the teleprompter, sparking a controversy. Then, mainstream Republicans like Paul Ryan thoroughly denounce the statement, then reiterate their unwavering support for him with a now-familiar pained look on their faces.
As shameful as this behavior from top Republicans is, it is at least logical. They have constituents to avoid alienating, and allowing oneself to be blamed for electing Hillary Clinton is tantamount to treason in many Republican circles. This is not the case with the Notre Dame College Republicans.
Members of Notre Dame College Republicans as a club are not elected officials and do not run the risk of alienating constituents like Republican members of Congress and others. Rather, they exist in an environment where honest deliberation should determine actions, not blind adherence to the party line. Vice President Dylan Stevenson was quoted by the Observer as saying that the club decided “to support whoever that nominee was” back in April. That kind of reflexive obedience to party is the surest way to help torpedo the future success of Republicans in the decades to come.
Trump embodies a caricature of the lowest, most common Democratic lines of attack against Republicans: he is an old, white man who doesn’t care much for the poor, looks down on minorities and women, and uses fear to win voters. When the Republicans who support him are accused of those things in the future, they will have forfeited the legitimacy to defend themselves from those accusations. Paul Ryan provided one shining moment of respectability when he called Trump’s attack on Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel “textbook racism.” As for other Republicans who flatly denied that Trump’s comments were racist, why should they be taken seriously when the left accuses them of racism for an offhand, out-of-context comment?
As an aside: it is a moot point whether or not Trump actually is, deep down, a racist. What matters are people’s perceptions. When the general public hears the Republican nominee’s comments and widely perceives them to be racist, they project that image on the party far beyond the current election cycle.
The Notre Dame College Republicans have been active in the political discussion on campus. When the leadership is willing to turn a blind eye to Trump’s off-the-rails ramblings, what ground do they have to stand on in future discussions and debates? For a club whose mission it should be to shape the public perception of the Republican Party in a positive way for the young people here, it is unthinkable that they would actively work to undermine it.
In June, Republican Senator and Trump detractor Lindsey Graham put it well when he said that “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.” It remains to be seen whether that will hold true for the Republican leadership here at Notre Dame.
The clock is running out on this election. In less than two months, Trump will likely lose — ending his candidacy, which was ironically built around him being a winner, in a sad, anticlimactic train wreck. NDCR leadership still has a chance to hop off the Trump train before it’s too late, or permanently mar the club’s reputation for years to come.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.