HARRISON HAMM, Opinion Editor—Spend time on Denison’s campus and you’ll find that most people lean left politically. It’s a fact of a liberal arts college. The executive board of the Denison College Republicans is well aware of this.
“There is a stigma toward being right-leaning on campus,” Jack Lauer, a senior and member of the College Republicans board, said.
“There definitely is a stigma,” said Stewart Moore, the president of the club. “The atmosphere is to not say too much.”
The College Republicans, around in their current form since 2017, have an email list of about 200 people and hold weekly meetings (Thursdays on Zoom) that usually attract between seven to 10 people. They are an ideological minority in a fierce political climate.
Each member of the exec board (four people) expressed the concern that there aren’t satisfactory outlets to make their conservative opinions heard, and that they have been fearful of their grades being impacted in classes with professors who they feel are left-leaning. Blake Brown, a junior, said that a professor called him a “Nazi” in class. He declined to name the professor because he will likely take more classes with them in the future.
There have also been situations of “social ostracization,” as Moore put it. Brown said that he’s had people stop being friends with him as a result of his political beliefs.
In an era of intense political partisanship, it is not hard to believe that friendships have ended due to politics. Denison is a campus made up mostly of Democrats, a fact that is borne out in voting data. According to precinct reporting from the New York Times, 80 percent of voters in the precinct making up Denison University voted for Joe Biden, four years after 81 percent voted for Hillary Clinton. College campuses throughout the country often lean Democratic.
It is a fickle time to be a conservative in this country, as Donald Trump’s right-wing populism has radicalized an increasing segment of the population. Liberal distrust or dislike of Republicans is based in a legitimate belief that conservatives pose a threat to the rights of LGBTQ people and immigrants, and that they stand against the racial justice initiatives that gained so much steam in the spring and summer of 2020.
The executive board of the College Republicans at Denison is relatively moderate. They follow a more standard brand of conservatism that pushes back on some aspects of Trumpism. In one of their recent meetings, held with the theme of second amendment rights, they barely mentioned Trump at all. Asked to describe where they differ from the former president, they each had concrete answers.
Brown describes himself as “more of a libertarian,” with his pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ stance setting him apart from the Republican party. Lauer, who is gay, supports LGBTQ rights and prefers that the GOP doesn’t “blow off” climate change. Grant Balogh, a junior, identified individualism and an “entrepreneurial spirit” as the basis of his political ideology. Moore disagreed with Trump’s approach to foreign policy.
Despite some differences with the Trumpian conservatism that has overtaken the Republican party, their preferences for the 2024 nomination reflect a stronger identification with those policies. All four cited Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and a Trump ally, as their favored candidate. Other names brought up included Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida who is famous for his anti-lockdown policies, and Tim Scott, a senator from South Carolina.
The Denison College Republicans hosted a group of speakers last Saturday via Zoom that drew backlash from Denison students. Most prominently, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo spoke, sparking uproar due to Pompeo’s past controversial comments and association with Trump.
In addition to Pompeo, Ohio governor Mike DeWine, senate candidates Josh Mandel and Jane Timkin, and Republican speaker and author JD Vance (who is seriously considering a senate run) spoke at the convention. Mandel in particular has a controversial past. He is a far-right candidate who has endorsed white supremacists, promoted the lie that there was significant voter fraud in the 2020 election, and was temporarily banned from Twitter for posting hateful content.
“The presence of Mandel at the convention does not signal support,” Moore said in response to these concerns, “only that we were willing to give a platform to any Republican willing to speak running for senate.”
The presence of a conservative like Mandel demonstrates that while Republicans may express concerns about their views being suppressed, the goal of censoring on the internet or on college campuses is to limit racist hate speech and misinformation as much as possible.
Regardless of the perceived threat to free speech, Denison Republicans will continue to meet on Thursdays to discuss the issues.
Balogh had this to say about being a conservative at Denison: “I think it challenges you to really dig down into your value system … I think it pushes you to explore other options.”