The University of Connecticut College Republicans made headlines last week when they decided to publicly withhold support of their party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
Doing so showed backbone and the group deserves to be commended. Of course, they weren’t willing to go as far as backing Hillary Clinton (despite the fact her center-right tendencies make her the consummate moderate Republican) and they have opted to focus on getting prodigal son and local UConn legend, Mark Sargent, reelected.
This is obviously a cop out: If you’re going to come out against Trump, do it all the way. A slew of former Republican officials have voiced their approval of Clinton over Trump, but it’s telling that only one elected Republican representative, Rep. Richard Hanna (N.Y.), has said he will vote for Clinton rather than Trump. Even more revealing is Hanna’s upcoming retirement this year.
Many people have congratulated the UConn College Republicans for denouncing Trump’s candidacy. The Connecticut Democratic Party put out an official statement, saying this proves, “It is clear that young voters in record numbers are rejecting the hateful policies and divisive rhetoric of the Trump campaign.”
There was something in this whole process I took exception to, though. Paul DaSilva, the President of UConn’s College Republicans, essentially blamed Trump’s efforts to attain the presidency on the “alt-right” (the far right, born from the Tea Party, white nationalist wing of the Republican party).
“There are fringe communities online that have kind of broken away from conservatism, and they call themselves the ‘alt-right’: the alternate right,” DaSilva said in a Daily Campus interview. “They take a much more populist, an ugly populist, view of things and their ideology is not the Reaganesque or Bush-era conservatism that I believe and that the executive board believes is the proper direction for the Republican Party to take.”
Listen to how so-called establishment, mainstream, middle-of-the-road Republicans blame the state of their current party on those pesky populists. This is, by no means, a defense of the “alt-right,” which is a disgusting perversion of conservatism, and DaSilva is right to criticize the movement. Yet, his dismissive views on this “fringe community” show a fundamental misunderstanding of how the “alt-right” came to fruition and their function today.
Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and John McCain’s capitulating to Trump is a perfect example. These are the men who are supposed to stand up to that “ugly populism” of the party, who are supposed to show sensible conservatism is still the modus operandi of Republicans. Instead, afraid of losing their respective elections, they’ve allowed the “alt-right” to take over the Republican Party.
Calling the “alt-right,” “alternative” is a hilarious twist of irony to me. The “alt-right” is the standard. They have taken over the Republican party, which is perfectly represented in Trump, his ideology and the new head of his campaign, Stephen Bannon, who ran Breitbart, a conservative news source home to conspiracy theories and the bowels of the “alt-right”. They are not alternative. They are the Republican Party.
My issue is not with DaSilva and other Republicans like him standing up to the “alt-right.” It’s the fact that the Grand Old Party does not see two feet in front of itself: They let the “alt-right” flourish.
The visceral reaction of “no” virtually all Republican leaders have had to any Democratic policy proposal during President Obama’s tenure is example number one. They stoked the fire of partisanship, signaling to the “alt-right” that their existence is needed as resistance to the jackbooted Democrats. If the “alt-right” had been properly stood up to and if Republican leaders could have compromised at any time, Ted Cruz wouldn’t have been a viable candidate for President and Merrick Garland would be a Supreme Court Justice.
An AP article captures the existential battle waging within the Republican Party well.
“No fan of Trump, (Sen. Lindsey) Graham argued that resentment of Obama plus his own party’s attitude toward immigrants are responsible for the deep divide and the billionaire businessman’s surge,” the journalist Donna Cassata writes. “Mainstream Republicans are hard-pressed to figure out a way forward with Trump, who has pledged to build a wall on the Mexican border, bar Muslims from entering the United States and equivocated over former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s support.”
The UConn College Republicans deserve praise for their denial of Trump. That being said, the GOP needs to look to the soul of their party and exorcise it, because it is as alternative as can be.