Several Cornell Republicans were troubled by the Republican National Convention’s lack of unity, discourse on minority issues and constant attacks on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Cleveland last week.
While sharing a deep distrust of the Democratic nominee, the club’s leadership diverged on whether the convention’s dark warnings of impending national decline revealed a party that has finally found a way to resonate with its base, or a platform disfigured by a strong man candidate.
Calling for Law and Order
Cornell Republicans Chairman Olivia Corn ’19 said she believes the “law and order” focus of the convention resonated with current voters, who “rightly have fears, given [that] random acts of terror that have been committed here in the United States, and around the world.”
However, Senior First Vice Chair Austin McLaughlin ’18 and First Vice Chair Irvin McCullough ’18 found this theme problematic, citing concerns about the message’s racial undertones and hints of authoritarianism.
“Personally, I’m troubled by white America’s tendency to block out black America’s struggles,” McCullough said. “Making [law and order] a formal theme exacerbates that fact.”
McLaughlin also expressed concerns about the Republican nominee’s combination of extreme nationalism with this legalism. He said he was “offended” by Trump’s decision to began his keynote address to the RNC on Thursday night with a “USA” chant.
“This behavior is jingoistic … statements like ‘I alone can fix it’ make [Trump] out to be more of a strongman than a unifier,” McLaughlin said. “Trump combines this language with language of law and order as if he alone can solve the gun violence and terrorism wrought upon the United States. In my opinion, the Republican Party inches closer and closer to authoritarianism with this law and order motif.”
While Corn, McCullough and McLaughlin agreed by-in-large with RNC speakers’ criticism of Clinton, they said the convention focused on it excessively.
“Even as a Republican, it’s terrifying to watch a crowd chanting ‘lock her up’ toward a political opponent,” McCullough said. “But their criticisms aren’t inaccurate. Director Comey’s scathing speech and the majority’s questioning made that clear.”
Corn echoed McCullough’s statements, adding that she believes the RNC’s speakers’ criticism of Clinton resonated with many Americans.
“What have the Democrats done for the inner cities and for those who cannot get jobs? How have the Democrats been tough on terrorism?” Corn asked. “The convention was obviously trying to rev up the base and while the essence of what they said was true, the manner in which they said [the ‘lock her up’ chants] was a little bit over the top.”
While McLaughlin “generally agreed” with many of the statements made about Clinton’s corruption, he said he was disappointed that these criticisms were a such a focal point of the convention.
“It became tiring that Hillary, rather than Trump, a policy objective or some goal, was the unifying force behind the Republican Party and RNC at large,” he said.
A Unified GOP?
Although prominent Republicans have shared their misgivings about Trump in the past, national party leaders have called for unitfication, a movement which was expected to gain momentum in Cleaveland.
Despite their pleas, Republicans appear far from unified around their nominee, according to McLaughlin.
“The RNC revealed that, contrary to what some leading Republicans hoped, the Republican Party in its current form is the party of Trump,” he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Tx.) refusal to endorse Trump during his speech to the convention last Wednesday night was not a primary cause, but rather a symptom of this disunity, Corn said.
“I do not think that Ted Cruz’s choice to not endorse Trump affected Republican party cohesion because there was never cohesion to begin with,” she said.
McLaughlin agreed, adding that the decisions of former Republican nominees and candidates not to speak at the convention more clearly reveals the lack of consensus within the party.
“More than Ted Cruz, the lack of appearances by Trump’s former rivals Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) — in his own state’s convention — Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio demonstrated that much of the establishment and anti-establishment figures do not support Trump,” McLaughlin said.
Many see Cruz’s failure to endorse Trump as an early bid to establish a platform for a 2020 presidential run, gambling that there is no chance Trump will win this fall, according to McCullough. However, McCullough said he believes Cruz’s decision not to endorse the nominee could backfire.
“If Donald Trump loses, Senator Cruz and the #NeverTrump movement may become the Ralph Nader of the 2016 election,” McCullough said. “Speaking out at the RNC may have been a poor decision for Senator Cruz in the long run.”
Moving Into the General
Both Corn and McLaughlin said they believe that one of the most serious challenges Trump will faces in November’s general election is gaining minority votes.
“If you were to ask me what the Republican Party’s greatest challenge is before Donald Trump’s campaign came into being, I would have said uniting hispanic voters,” McLaughlin said. “However, given his statements about Mexicans and immigrants in general, I predict that that bloc is all but lost to the GOP.”
Corn echoed McLaughlin’s concerns, but also highlighted Trump’s strengths in rallying a passionate band of supporters.
“I believe that those who support Trump are more enthusiastic than those who support Clinton, and will go to the polls in November,” Corn said.
McCullough also emphasized that voter turnout could be in Trump’s favor this election, given his strong primary performance.
“Voter turnout will decide this election, and Republican primary turnout was record breaking,” McCullough said.
However, he added that neither party can rule out any “October surprises” which could drastically change today’s polls and predictions.
“Despite varying polls and predictions, no one can truthfully tell you that their candidate will win,” he said. “Something may happen this October that could drastically change the fate of our nation.”