By Cyrus Beschloss and David Frank
This fall’s midterms are poised to stand as a decisive referendum on the Trump presidency, and its unprecedented impact on norms in government.
College students represent a crucial demographic in swinging the pendulum toward a blue wave, or a red stand. While student turnout has been historically abysmal, groundswell movements like that kickstarted by the Parkland teens may disrupt the trend.
We reached out to presidents and leading representatives of college republican organization at colleges around the country to gauge their opinions on the Trump presidency so far. Hopefully, their thoughts - considered in conversation with one another - may provide insight into how the country’s young conservatives have digested the unorthodox term.
Their unabridged reviews of Trump’s first 2 years and the broader political moment are as follows:
*The views expressed by the following offers do not represent the group’s opinion unless explicitly stated (Star indicates group grade)
University of California, Berkeley
Overall Grade: B
Bradley Devlin - Executive VP of the Berkeley College Republicans
She told me I was asking for it. Half of her head was covered in curled blue hair, done up in a clip. The other half was shaved down to a buzz. “Like seriously, this is UC Berkeley, why are you even f*cking here? Don’t you know better?”
Before I had a chance to reply, she stormed off in her holey jeans. Resist buttons jingled on her vegan, non-GMO backpack. This is a true story, and similar incidents happen to lone conservatives all over the country on college campuses.
Events on campus like the one above became my new normal when over 100 Antifa terrorists laid siege to UC Berkeley’s campus and threatened conservative students lives with fireworks and other incendiary devices in February of 2017. As I was locked in that second story balcony of Pauley ballroom and a member of the Berkeley College Republicans, I knew our member list contained the names of over 1400 students. Their lives were now physically endangered. That’s when my friends and I decided to take a stand against regressive leftism.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: contrary to popular belief, the Koch brothers, YAF, YAL, TPUSA, or ARI didn’t send us to UC Berkeley to be an advocate for conservatism and stir up trouble. We do this because we believe in the values the United States was built on: freedom, limited and small government, and self determination. For us, Trump has been adept at standing for those values. While I acknowledge his bombastic way about him can get him into trouble, it also makes him incredibly gifted at making the left look utterly insane. Their resistance to low unemployment rates for minorities and calling terrorists “monsters” or gang members “animals” proves the regressive left doesn’t want our country, and those who enjoy its freedoms, to succeed.
University of Michigan:
Overall Grade: A
Dylan Berger - President of UM College Republicans
In 1980, Ronald Reagan famously asked the American people,"Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Looking back on the first 500 days of the Trump Presidency, the answer is a resounding yes. Despite unwavering obstruction from Democrats and a large swath of the media, President Trump has achieved results almost no one thought would be possible only a little more than a year ago. His policies have undoubtedly made our nation more prosperous and secure than it was under President Obama. I encourage Americans to ignore the endless noise coming from Trump obstructionists, and instead, focus on the concrete results he has brought our people.
By cutting sky-high taxes and scaling back senseless regulations, President Trump has allowed our economy to soar. In fact, the Trump Economy has created over 3 million jobs in less than 2 years. Even more importantly, wages are growing at the fastest clip since President Bush was in office. These stellar economic results are reaching all Americans with unemployment rates for women, African Americans and Hispanics at record lows. Nonetheless, Democratic leaders such as Hillary Clinton still have the gall to label President Trump as “racist” and “ignorant.”
President Trump has also made our nation far more secure by rebuilding our military following years of neglect by President Obama. The spending bill signed by President Trump last March secures a $61 billion spending increase for the military this year. This extra funding will provide for desperately needed equipment for our servicemen and women such as 14 new ships for the Navy, 90 F-35’s for the Air Force and dozens of new helicopters for the Army. With a once-again dominant military, our enemies understand that any attack on America will be met with overwhelming force.
While some find President Trump’s unconventional leadership style unsettling, I find it refreshing. The fact of the matter is that legions of conventional politicians failed again and again to deliver on their promises. President Trump has. As a result, I give President Trump’s first 500 days an A. Going forward, I would like for the President to address our skyrocketing debt, defuse the immigration crisis on our southern border and find a solution to the burgeoning trade wars. If the past 500 days are any indication, President Trump is poised to deliver on any problem facing our country.”
University of Notre Dame
Overall Grade: A
Jeff Murphy - Officer of Notre Dame College Republicans
Taxation and Regulation – A+
Economic prosperity relies upon a favorable tax environment and freedom from burdensome regulation. President Trump accomplished both, getting the government off businesses’ backs and out of their pockets. The economy has reacted accordingly, with GDP approaching 4% and unemployment plummeting to its lowest rate in half a century. A+.
Foreign Policy – A-
The president’s greatest triumph in foreign policy came in his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. It was an utterly insane agreement and its death was long overdue. President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel and the concurrent decision to relocate our embassy to the city were both shining moments of his administration’s foreign policy.
However, his decision to launch attacks against Syria – twice – was less pleasing. As much as I enjoy thinking about Assad’s airbases and chemical weaponry development centers being bombed, Syria is not America’s problem. We have a crisis right here at home on our southern border. I want the President to be focusing on that, not the rest of the world - America first. At least the president used weapons and not soldiers. If we are going to get more involved in Syria, I’d rather send American missiles than American men and women.
I assess the President’s recent negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un with a similar level of reluctant disdain. As monumental as North Korean denuclearization will be if it occurs, it should not fall upon the United States. Why isn’t it China’s problem? A-.
2nd Amendment – A
President Trump has been a robust defender of the 2nd Amendment, especially in the wake of recent mass demonstrations advocating for gun control. However, he has made some concerning comments in the past, so this will be an issue upon which to remain focused moving forward. As long as the President surrounds himself with the right people, I think he will continue to be a vigorous supporter of the 2nd Amendment.
Immigration – C-
Donald Trump’s campaign and election were built upon his immigration policy proposals. Thus, it is most disappointing to confer such a poor score upon such an important sector of domestic policy. Nothing is more important than securing the border, limiting illegal immigration as much as possible, and reforming immigration policy to reflect American interests. President Trump was unequivocally the best candidate on this issue, and yet, here we are: almost a year and a half into his presidency with no wall and a man much less firm on this issue than he was two years ago. The president should be spending every single second of his time focusing on the immigration crisis. Jeb(!) Bush would have given us tax cuts. Ted Cruz would have ended the Iran nuclear deal. What the president has accomplished is wonderful, but it is not the reason he won. He won because he promised to pursue immigration policies that prioritized American prosperity. I don’t want him eating, sleeping, or spending the weekend at Mar-a-Lago until the first brick of the wall has been laid. C-.
Misc. – A+
President Trump appointing Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was a major victory for the Trump Administration. Replacing Justice Scalia, one of the greatest justices to ever grace the court, was no small task. And while Gorsuch is no Scalia or Thomas, he is a principled originalist and desirable addition to the court.
Another triumph for the Trump administration was the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The agreement was blatantly unfair, pseudoscientific, and did not promote American prosperity. President Trump showed that any international agreement joined by the United States must be fair, reasonable, effective, scientifically-based, and promote American prosperity.
Finally, while I did not have enough room to address healthcare, the president’s repeal of the individual mandate and other aspects of the Affordable Care Act were additional fulfilled promises from the Trump administration. A+.
George Washington University
Overall Grade: A-
Caroline Hakes - Director of PR of GWU College Republicans
"Our members are from all across the spectrum of conservatism, and they all have varying opinions of President Trump. Some of our members did not support his candidacy for President, so the Executive Board made a decision not to endorse.
For domestic policy, I give the President an A-. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is by far President Trump’s biggest policy victory to date. Thanks to the lowered corporate tax rate, businesses are increasing wages, investing more in job training, and creating new jobs for hard-working Americans. Middle class families are seeing marked increases in take-home pay, helping them to pay their expenses and save for the future. Increased disposable income yields increased consumption, which allows the U.S. economy to grow more than ever. However, President Trump’s trade policy is a serious threat to our economic stability. While it is important to check China’s unfair trade practices, unilaterally imposing tariffs on our allies in North America and Europe is unwise and could possibly offset the benefits of the tax bill. I hope the President will listen to Republicans who urge him to reconsider. Free trade is a net benefit to our economy.
On the foreign policy side of things, I give President Trump a solid A. The President’s methods are definitely unconventional when it comes to foreign policy, but there is no question that his strength and resolve in standing up to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un led to the historic summit in Singapore. The prospects look excellent for future talks and eventual peace on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump must continue to demand cooperation from North Korea, and, should Kim return to developing nuclear weapons, ramp up the sanctions already in place. The President has put American interests first in his foreign policy endeavors – as he should. Despite protests from the U.N., President Trump made the long-overdue decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the country’s rightful capital. President Trump has a strong partner in Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has stood strong at the U.N. in the face of opposition from countries who forget that the United States has an absolute right to make decisions as a sovereign nation.
Overall, I give the Trump Administration an A-. The President has been exceptionally strong on foreign policy, and the tax bill brings a promise of strong economic growth in the future. However, the President’s trade policy threatens to undo this progress, as it upsets our allies and raises prices and taxes for American consumers."
Overall Grade: B-
Michael Jones - Comm. Director of the Auburn College Republicans
"The current administration has been a very welcoming change from the previous administration, which I expected. I didn’t believe President Trump was the best Republican candidate in the contested field, however, he was certainly a better option for president than Hillary Clinton. That decision is clearest when considering Justice Scalia’s empty Supreme Court seat and the recent retirement announcement of Justice Kennedy. Justice Gorsuch was an excellent replacement for Justice Scalia, and I’m confident President Trump will nominate a principled constitutionalist to fill Justice Kennedy’s seat.
These events and the likelihood of President Trump getting to nominate one or more Supreme Court Justices has already impacted history and will do so for many decades. Additionally, President Trump has filled 41 other judicial positions with quality judges. This is one of the main reasons the 2016 election was so significant, and history would be very different if the election went the other way. To me, this was one of the most important issues of the 2016 election, and it has turned out brilliantly for us.
This subject is important but the current administration has done many other good things to earn the support of voters. Most notably, the economy has absolutely boomed. This stock market roar is in large part due to the tax cuts, which subsequently lead to heaps of wage raises and bonuses for many American families. This, combined with the lowest unemployment rate since 2000, more jobs openings than workers, and solid deregulation, is definitely a highlight of the current administration.
Overall, President Trump has kept many important campaign promises. On top of the aforementioned issues, he has moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, exited the Iran Deal, exited the Paris Climate Accords, implemented the travel ban, finally, strongly cracked down on the border, enforced American leadership around the world, and many more.
These issues have been handled well but there are a few issues where he has started fumbling and even dropped the ball. For instance, the booming economy is currently being slightly stifled by a small natural correction and the repercussions of potential tariffs. He should back away from the tariffs if he wants this kind of growth to continue. He is also having problems getting the wall funded – which was a major campaign promise. While he recently got a small amount of funding, it is nowhere near enough for the project. Another sore spot is healthcare. Certainly, healthcare isn’t an issue President Trump can fix alone, but he needs to press Congress to put forth a solid bill. Especially before the next election cycle. However, he did sign the ‘right to try’ bill, which was a great move.
So, with the ups and the downs comes the ‘meh.’ President Trump needs to exercise more caution in foreign affairs and diplomacy. While the exit of the Iran Deal, a renewed relationship with Israel, and a stronger American presence have been great, the North Korea situation is getting sticky. President Trump absolutely should be applauded for negotiating the release of the three American detainees from North Korea and the potential denuclearization of them. He also needs to be sure to recognize the horrors of their government. “Trust, but verify,” as President Ronald Reagan said. President Trump needs to stay strong and be certain that North Korea keeps their promises regarding denuclearization. He also needs to acknowledge that Kim Jong Un is a dictator and has committed many cruelties against humanity during his rule.
Our College Republican group endorsed then-candidate Trump in 2016. While many of us on the leadership team wasn’t with the group then, I’m confident we would have made the same decision.
Overall, I’d give President Trump a B-. His judicial nominations, the strong economy, the enforcement of immigration laws, and kept campaign promises bring this up, while the tariffs, lack of wall funding, the constant drama that he fuels, and lack of results on healthcare bring it down a little
A B- is a passing grade and President Trump will have my support in the next election if things keep going this way.
My opinions are my own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of everyone in our group."
University of Virginia
Overall Grade: B
Robert Andrews - Chairman of the UVA College Republicans
"Nowadays, there is nothing more exciting, or tumultuous, than being a Republican on a college campus. To many on the left, the word Republican has become a euphemism for evil, racist, bigot, or any other “-ist” or “-ic” ending word they can coin. I have only been Chairman of the College Republicans at the University of Virginia for a little more than a month, but I am no stranger to the controversy that comes with being slightly right of Karl Marx at a post-secondary institution.
The political climate is relatively toxic. For example, there have been a lot of attacks on our University’s founder, Thomas Jefferson. In the Fall of 2017, a group of students shrouded his statue with a large, black tarp and painted his hands red to symbolize his association with slavery. On his birthday, another group defaced this iconic relic by painting “racist” and “rapist” on its surface. This is part of a movement that has started in hopes of discrediting founding philosophy. In their view, if someone owned slaves, everything else they said or did must have been execrable. In the case of Jefferson, his views on government and rights must also be inherently flawed and the folks that seek to defame him also seek to eradicate the ideals he embodied. Conservative groups are trying to fight this, but it comes with repulsion from other stakeholders. For example, conservatives were even shouted down during a UVA Student Council meeting last year when rebutting a list of demands being proposed, which called for a litany of things such as adding “context” to Jefferson’s statue by placing a plaque disseminating his slave ownership.
Overall, the climate at my school is still better than many. It is especially better than other top academic institutions such as U.C. Berkeley and Harvard. There are a decent amount of conservative and libertarian-leaning organizations such as the Network of Enlightened Women, Young Americans for Freedom, Students for Individual Liberty, and Hoos for Life. Additionally, our University administration has done a fair job at protecting free speech.
The President has unexpectedly been a hot topic of debate for my organization. In 2016, we initially voted to formally endorse then-candidate Trump; but, following the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, the executive board (which I was not a part of at the time) held another vote where the organization revoked the initial endorsement. This caused a lot of controversy and the club received back lash from the Republican Party of Virginia.
Following the election of President Trump, a large portion of our organization was skeptical of the kind of job he’d do as president. To the surprise of many, he has provided some of the most conservative governance since the Reagan administration. Although he lacks a sense of higher morality and exudes childish rhetoric, he seems to be sticking to the policies that are important to most conservatives such as cutting taxes, laxing commercial and environmental regulations, and appointing constitutional conservatives to federal courts. Personally, I’d give him a grade of B."
University of Minnesota
Overall Grade: A*
John Cannon - Pres. of the University of Minnesota College Republicans
"While it is certain to be the minority opinion on campus at the University of Minnesota, our chapter of the College Republicans give the Trump administration an A rating at just over 500 days into his presidency. Although I have long been a supporter of the president, not every member of our chapter was a fan of Trump throughout the 2016 election. Even after locking up the Republican nomination it took effort and convincing within our college chapter the same as it did within the Republican party to vote for him and rightfully denounce spoilers such as Evan McMullin.
However, I strongly doubt it will take much convincing for any conservative to vote Trump in 2020. With Trump’s victories in tax reform, a booming economy with unemployment rates at their lowest point in decades, and now poised to make his second Supreme Court pick in just as many years, I believe the outlook for the future of conservatism is at its highest point this century.
Because perhaps more valuable to the Republican brand than anything within their own power is the democrats continued self-destruction. For the time being, I am elated with the surprise victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the growing divide between the far and center left. I’ll admit, the far left’s promises are ambitious and well-intentioned ideas, but most Americans with a concept of economics and the free market understand that their offer of free college, healthcare, a higher minimum wage and everything else that sounds good to be true is just that. And when you do the math their agenda is simply economically impossible to sustain.
While there are millions of blue collar Democrats who understandably want to take their party back from the fringe of self-avowed socialists, the current climate suggests they won’t succeed. Donald Trump’s victory alone wasn’t enough to bring cohesiveness to the Republican Party. It was his policy and economic successes and now again perhaps most exciting of all, the appointment of another constitutional conservative to the high court this fall. An event that will likely increase conservative turnout for the midterms and secure his political victories from judicial reversal.
Finally, although we believe Trump is correct that America is clearly targeted unfairly by tariffs, we are still wary whether retaliatory measures could result in a loss of jobs here at home. We also hope to see more concrete progress towards peace on the Korean peninsula in the coming months. We are excited to be Republicans today and even more optimistic of our party’s future. With the left’s increasing alienation of independent voters, we do believe conservatism is safe from a blue wave. The Democrats were a formidable force for nearly the entire 21st century. If they are to succeed again they’d best get new policy ideas other than free citizenship and stuff for all, and a slogan other than “RESIST.” Because in the meantime we’re going to keep making America great."
University of Maryland
Overall Grade: A-
Ben Colebrook - President of University of Maryland College Republicans
"The College Republicans at University of Maryland, College Park are extremely excited about the current political moment. In Maryland and across the United States wages are rising, unemployment is decreasing, and businesses are thriving. Thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Americans are paying less in taxes and are keeping more in their pockets to spend as they will.
With respect to foreign policy, the Trump Administration has been able to successfully meet and make a deal with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, something no other administration has been able to achieve. Trump also backed out of the Iran Deal, a deal that allowed Iran to be the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. He is also working hard to strengthen our border and passed an executive order to keep families from being separated when caught illegally entering our country.
If I were to give Trump a grade for his job as President thus far, I would give him an A-. In my eyes, he falls short only in a few areas. The first would be his rhetoric. Though he does not speak eloquently and politically correct, he still governs with calculated excellency. The second area he has let me down in is getting rid of Obamacare. That disaster needs to be fixed soon. My only other wish would be for criminal justice reform but that was never a big issue for Trump anyways.
The College Republicans did not endorse candidate Trump in 2016. As a club, we had members that both liked and disliked Trump and ultimately decided not to endorse a candidate. Many members are, however, happy with the way he is governing, regardless of the way they voted.
Our club is more centered on State politics and we are working hard to get the most popular governor in the nation reelected this November. Governor Hogan has turned our State around and even Democrats are noticing. They out number us 2-1 yet Hogan still has a 75% approval rating.
Unfortunately, we don’t have many conservative clubs on campus. Other than the College Republicans, we only have the Young Americans for Liberty and Students for Liberty, both of which are far more libertarian than conservative. We could stand to have more conservative groups on campus, maybe one less focused on activism than we are.
Overall, the UMD CR’s are happy with the direction our country is going in and look forward to another 6 years of President Trump in the White House."
University of Chicago
Overall Grade: B
Matthew Pinna - VP of The University of Chicago College Republicans
Before I begin, I will quickly mention that our organization did not endorse a candidate during 2016.
To say that President Trump began his term rather bombastically would be as much an understatement as calling Mount Everest “a really big hill”. To his credit, however, I feel that Republicans in this country have needed a voice like his for quite some time, someone willing to dig in deep, and swing back at toxic liberalism and media bias. Speaking from the perspective of an already-active Conservative presence on campus, it is undeniable the effect he had on my fellow students - those on the right who had been beaten down by the radical left for believing what they know to be right were empowered like never before to speak out, despite being in a harsh and unforgiving collegiate environment.
That being said, he can oftentimes take his “no prisoners” attitude much too far; an issue that would have otherwise blown over is brought to the spotlight by yet another errant tweet. His biggest failure though, would have to be his attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Not only was the American Healthcare Act poorly put together policy-wise, but it was a demonstrable failure of the Republican-majority legislature to get something done that every single one of its members likely ran on to get elected.
Although not nearly as disastrous, his two other flops would have to be how the administration handled the separation crisis - by not being able to provide an immediate and decisive response to criticism - and his current policy on engaging in global trade wars. While I agree that other countries should be called out for the tariffs that they impose, offsetting our major economic gains with a taxation “pissing contest” is not the way to go about it; surely, as the United States of America, we must have other forms of leverage to negotiate for mutually beneficial free trade.
Speaking of “economic gains”, boosting the economy - in GDP growth, job creation, and unemployment levels - has been a major feat of the Trump presidency. Because of his slashing of redundant and useless regulation, as well as the passing of his tax plan - which I would rate as his biggest success - the economy has seen a level of prosperity that hasn’t been reached for decades, least of all under the previous administration. This alone would allow me to rate him highly, but I would be remiss if I did not include two other pros: his appointment of Supreme Justice Neil Gorsuch and his negotiations with North Korea, the latter being completely unprecedented in modern history.
For those aforementioned reasons, I rate President Trump as a B - he’s doing well, but could use improvement.
As for Turning Point USA - they have zero presence at the University of Chicago. Here - and this may be controversial - TPUSA is seen as the conservative student’s equivalent of Occupy Democrats - it’s a talking-point recycler that doesn’t stand up on its own against rigorous debate.
Stony Brook University
Overall Grade: B-
Executive Board of the Stony Brook College Republicans
almost every way possible. Our economy, our three branches of government, and our presence
on the international stage have all shifted drastically ever since President Trump and his
appointees have risen to power. Furthermore, there has been one other change that may be
considered far more radical than the rest, and that is a change in the people of this nation.
Whether it’s on college campuses, within our places of work, on social media, or even amongst
our own families, people are more politically charged and partisan than ever.
As far as the economy goes, things have been very good lately on paper. The long
awaited tax reform resulted in an impressive boom in the stock market, although most numbers
have receded to where they were before the tax cuts took place. Unemployment has remained
lower than it’s been in a long time as well, which is a more solid representation of how things
have changed. That being said however, there are still some problems that should be
addressed. One of which is federal spending, which has only gotten more problematic with time
as nothing is done about it. Furthermore, our growing number of trade wars and the withdrawl
from the TPP could hurt us in the long run. It is common for a depression or recession to come
after an economic boom, and if these issues stand as they are this will be no exception.
Foreign relations have been interesting with Trump in the White House, to say the least.
Although we finally have some dialogue going with North Korea, things were extremely rocky up
until the summit which resulted in their continued production of nuclear weapons in fear of us
bringing them ‘fire and fury’. Although it was met with a wide range of reactions, the movement
of the Israeli embassy was a strong decision. Overall, there haven’t been too many significant
failures or breakthroughs in terms of foreign policy otherwise, outside of exiting groups such as
the Paris Climate Accord and the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Immigration was not always such a hot button issue in the United States, but ever since
Trump began his campaign it has become one of the largest political discussions we have
today. Whether or not the ultimate change is in his favor, it is fair to say that we would not have
seen such action being taken if not for President Trump. As things stand today however, no one
is happy with where immigration stands. Congress has been unable to produce a solid reform
bill that the president will agree on, and the president himself has been fairly inconsistent with
what he specifically wants done in response to our immigration crisis.
Like most SUNY campuses, the State University of New York at Stony Brook is fairly
liberal. Within our organization and it’s members, we still find a wide variety of opinions on the
current administration and it’s actions. With moderates, far-right conservatives, and radical
libertarians in our ranks, we experience rich discussions of both praise and scorn towards the
Trump administration, which tells you a lot about how much of an outsider our president can be
to even his own base. Among the executive board, we give the Trump administration a B- for
their work thus far. Our president has certainly had his moments, but many of us agree that
many of our issues today would be handled a lot more smoothly if a more traditional type of
leader was in office. Both his rhetoric and demeanor make President Trump very unique, but
they typically do more harm than good for him which overshadows many of the successes he
has had thus far.