As election day nears, local young Republicans voice their concerns with a party divided

by | Nov 2, 2016 | POLITICS

In the final days of the 2016 election, the University of Richmond’s chapter of College Republicans is trying to mobilize a dismembered party.

In the final days of the 2016 election, the University of Richmond’s chapter of College Republicans is trying to mobilize a dismembered party.

While the group officially endorsed Donald Trump for president, Chairman Andrew Brennan said the group wants to focus more on bringing attention to down-ticket candidates. The group has had candidates such as Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade and Congressman Dave Brat speak on campus in the hopes of engaging enthusiasm among what he described as an increasingly moderate campus.

The organization has left campaigning for Trump up to the individual members, maintaining the stance that it is important to support the nominee of their party despite the controversy surrounding him.

“I don’t think it’s inherently contradictory or irrational to say that you can disagree with certain things a candidate says or some of the positions he holds and still support him,” Brennan said. “While I regret some things Mr. Trump has said, I don’t think the consequence of that is ‘me not supporting him’ and that I’ll support him in spite of those things.”

Brennan sees this election as a shifting point for the Republican Party to decide its future. While he says he isn’t the biggest fan of Trump, he thinks it’s important to advocate party unity to ensure that the Republican platform continues toward traditional conservatism.

“After this election, there will be a lot of people asking questions in the party about what this party wants to stand for down the road,” Brennan said. “And I hope that they choose to stand for conservatism and libertarianism in general.”

The University of Richmond’s group has a membership of 180 students, with around 30 or 40 more actively involved year-round. Brennan and Mason Zadan, a member of the organization’s executive board, said that one of the top priorities for them is making sure that their party is able to express their ideas freely on campus in the face of political opposition.

“We just want to make sure that people are able to express their ideas without overt hostility and that we’re able to have forums in which the more conservative viewpoints, which don’t come out as often on college campuses, is represented,” Brennan said.

These efforts include collaborating with the UR rifle club to advocate gun rights, as well holding debates with the school’s Democratic group before the Presidential Debates.

The group has also worked with the state chapter, holding discussions with the chairman of the College Republican Federation of Virginia, Benjamin Dessart, and knocking on doors for Mike Wade, who is running for Congress in the fourth district.

While Brennan says that the student body leans toward the center politically, he says the strong business school on campus brings in more conservatives. He says Republicans at universities often prioritize the economy as central party platform issue as the search for a job after graduation becomes a looming task.

As the Republican Party is at its most divided nearing the Nov. 8 election, the UR College Republicans think that Trump’s success thus far can be attributed to dissatisfaction with the current political institutions on both sides.

“Issues that are really important to the base such as immigration and terrorism are issues that I think some of the party establishments neglected and so bringing those issues to the forefront is not necessarily a bad thing,” Brennan said. “I think if Trump wins it will be very interesting and, I think, helpful for democracy, for there to be that kind of tension between [Speaker Ryan]’s agenda and President Trump’s. I think that’s kind of how it’s supposed to work under federalism. They’re supposed to negotiate.”

Brennan and Zadan also see religion as a factor in the political conversation.

“Religion plays an important role in civic life in general,” said Brennan, who also serves as co-president of the university’s Catholic Campus Ministry organization.

“Politics are always downwind of our culture and our worldview,” Zadan said. “Our religion, our philosophy informs our culture which therefore informs our politics.”

Despite the controversy surrounding Trump and the future of the Republican Party, Brennan and Zadan think the party will move toward the individual and anti-establishment sentiments that have been fostered by the current election cycle.

“The Republican party is trying to make the citizen more free and allow us to have more opportunity,” Brennan said “I will say that’s the good side of Trump – that anti-establishment and anti-status quo. He wants to change it up. Some people don’t agree with what he wants to do but I think the ideas of the power of the individual is something really positive that he’s done.”

Attempts to ask questions of a similar group on VCU campus were fruitless, though an occasionally updated facebook group does exist. According to Kaitlin Griffith, coordinator for student organization development at Virginia Commonwealth University, there is no official College Republicans club officially registered with VCU at at this time, and she didn’t comment on the last year that there was an officially registered group.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner is the former editor of GayRVA and RVAMag from 2013 - 2017. He’s now the Richmond Bureau Chief for Radio IQ, a state-wide NPR outlet based in Roanoke. You can reach him at

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