At Harvard, most things tend to fall in line with tradition and the way things are usually done. Amid the bucolic and purely New England-looking brick and mortar buildings, the tides of time tend to be more gradual than anything resembling a thunderous crash against the shore.
But with the 2016 general election cycle in full swing, the cacophonous sounds of the campaign have changed the way presidential nominees go about electoral business in the dog days of August. With both parties selecting candidates possessing record unfavorable polling numbers, 2016 has been anything but traditional.
The aforementioned campus in Cambridge, Mass. went with the untraditional tide last Thursday as the Harvard Republican Club, the university’s chapter of modern-day Alex P. Keatons, released a statement on their Facebook page announcing that they will not be endorsing GOP nominee Donald J. Trump. Keep in mind, this organization has been around since 1888, when they actively worked to elect Benjamin Harrison to a White House victory over incumbent president Grover Cleveland.
The Harvard Republican Club has a history of going against the political flow of the university, as a recent poll showed nearly 87 percent of graduating seniors were either registered democrats or, at the very least, left-leaning. That small 13 percent of the political pie leaves conservatives like HRC vice president Cameron Khansarinia in a fairly resounding minority on campus.
However, Khansarinia and his fellow Harvard Republicans comprise about a 100-member or so group actively working for conservative causes and candidates.
“It’s a very small group of Republicans at Harvard,” Khansarinia said. “Many of them are probably what we call ‘Republicans in the closet,’ because they’re afraid to talk about their conservative thoughts and ideas on campus.”
Khansarinia said that the majority makeup of the club consists of young acolytes of the policies and rhetoric of former president Ronald Reagan. He even made a point to use the Reaganite term of a “big tent party” to describe how most of the university’s Republicans feel about who the party should be including.
The group comprises the campus’s most center-right leaning voters as members. This includes people who consider themselves libertarians, staunch conservatives, and even the socially liberal.
That last group of conservative voters looked visibly absent from the final draft of the Republican National Committee’s platform a few weeks ago, as the party pushed a seemingly less-inclusive partisan agenda.
“My personal reaction was at some points was disappointment and disgust,” Khansarinia said about his snap judgment of his party’s platform. “Last year, we had the pleasure of hosting Greg Angelo, of the Log Cabin Republicans, the largest group of LGBTQ republicans and conservatives. He came to speak with us on campus. Many of our members support marriage equality, many believe that the Constitution is their guide to look at an issue wholly, and we have some members who believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman, but we respect all opinions. But I know that no one in our club supports, what has been proven by doctors, psychologists, and people in all kinds of fields, things in our platform like gay conversion therapy which are absolutely horrendous,” he added.
Khansarinia also voiced displeasure with the platform’s lack of language regarding the horrific treatment of LGBT people in ISIS-controlled areas of our world.
Mostly, the platform didn’t feel as if a young Republican with Khansarinia’s ideals helped created the platform that also included controversial language involving Russia and Ukraine. The HRC VP believes that that very language almost certainly was whipped into form by Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has political ties to that region of the globe.
Thursday’s statement was not the first step for the club in declining to endorse their party’s nominee. As Trump refused to fully repudiate and decline the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, the group’s weariness with Trump began to grow even larger.
“That was sort of the first time we had really condemned our party’s nominee,” Khansarinia said. “To not condemn someone from the Ku Klux Klan was simple not acceptable for us,” he added.
As time wore on, there was something of a lull in terms of inflammatory statements from Trump until his comments regarding Judge Gonzalo Curiel began to roll the rhetorical snowball down the hill. Those comments were called by Speaker Paul Ryan to be “textbook racism.”
This past week’s back and forth with Trump and Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan after their speech to the Democratic National Convention was the final one for the group before deciding to decline an endorsement to the GOP nominee.
“That was the last straw for us,” Khansarinia said. “That’s not something that we as a party and certainly we as a country should stand for.”
By the optics of it, being a Republican during the rise of Trump hasn’t been particularly easy. GOP leaders have faced tough scrutiny and criticism of their endorsements of the New York real estate mogul, including conservative lion John McCain, and Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan; those who have chosen not to board the so-called Trump Train have been put in the crosshairs of the firebrand candidate both on the stump and Twittersphere.
Declining to endorse the nominee of one’s party isn’t easy as prominent Republicans have recently shown, but the Harvard Republican Club’s statement on Thursday showed that standing up for one’s beliefs is a textbook case of doing a big thing gracefully and respectfully.
“I understand why, for political reasons that they have to say that they support Trump, but I think in their heart of hearts, that they know that Donald Trump is not a conservative, he’s not a Republican, and he cannot be a person that we elect to the White House,” Khansarinia said. “My advice to them would be that a huge swath of this country, young people, minorities, working class people, who were are going to lose if we continue to support Donald Trump and he becomes president.”
Word of the Harvard Republican Club lit social media ablaze in an election cycle that has seemingly been fought prominently in an arena located smack dab in the Twittersphere. As of writing this piece, the group’s statement on Facebook attained nearly 45,000 shares, over 5,000 comments and nearly 75,000 reactions (likes, etc).
Many of the comments are positive towards the group’s message, and others are certainly less polite towards the group’s decision. That mixed bag of political emotion has not gone unnoticed by Khansarinia.
“We’ve received a lot of negative comments from Trump supporters accusing us of being traitors to the party, and accusing us of supporting Hillary Clinton which we are certainly not,” Khansarinia said. “On the other said we have received so many messages of thanks, encouragement, and support from Republicans saying thanks for speaking out and that this man doesn’t represent them and isn’t an example for their families and children.”
So, where does the group go now after their landmark statement? Their focus is squarely on down-ballot races nation-wide, including helping to re-elect neighboring New Hampshire moderate Republican senator Kelly Ayotte, currently embattled in a tight race.
Khansarinia, a former Marco Rubio supporter during the Republican primaries, took notice of Ted Cruz’s statement in Cleveland during the RNC convention two weeks ago asking voters and delegates to “vote their conscience.” It begs an important question whether or not those very simple words are truly as inflammatory as the ardent Trump supporters made it seem last month.
But with a statement like the Harvard Republican Club’s on Thursday, maybe voting one’s conscience is the exact way that young conservatives like Khansarinia find themselves up and out of the cumbersome weight of Trumpism and a virulent hot take political discourse culture to truly open up the tent of their political party to all.