Trump et Veritas

A dozen or so Yale students, all men, stared at a television tuned to CBS. They had packed into the common room of sophomore Michael Fitzgerald’s Silliman suite to watch the first debate of the first presidential election in which they are old enough to vote. The men lean right, politically, but they had officially disavowed the Republican candidate on stage: Donald J. Trump. Trump was the reason they were all in Fitzgerald’s suite, instead of at the Yale College Republicans’ watch party in Linsly-Chittenden Hall across campus. In August, after the Yale College Republicans endorsed Trump, four of the board members, including Fitzgerald, quit and started their own organization, the New Republicans. They pledged in an inaugural Facebook post to be “a more active Republican organization on campus that will always put national interests above partisan ones.”

On the one hand, this position ensured they could experience some satisfying schadenfreude no matter who prevailed in the debate, because neither candidate could embarrass them. On the other hand, whatever Trump said over the course of the next 90 minutes, given his track record, would probably add to an unseemly chapter for the Republican Party they still mostly supported, and a less-than-shining moment for a democracy they still fervently believed in.

Fitzgerald, a sophomore who favors tidy slacks and plaid button-downs, provided Pepe’s Pizza and bottles of Pepsi. As the New Republicans grabbed slices and settled in on couches and chairs, Republican pollster Frank Luntz held a conversation on CBS with a focus group of 27 undecided Pennsylvania voters wearing blue and white “Hello My Name Is…” stickers. A woman with pink hair said she was leaning towards Hillary (“There’s a surprise,” a New Republican noted drily), while a middle-aged white man declared himself the “most Trump person in this room.” A freshman who had met the New Republicans at the extracurricular bazaar alternated between glances at the screen and his Bible, which he was reading for Directed Studies. Frank Luntz asked the focus group, “Who here is mad at the choices we have for President?”

Alex Thomas, a junior astrophysics major, set down his plate and waved his arm. “Meeeeeeee!” he shouted at Luntz. “Everyone in America raises their hand,” he joked. Thomas, who is the first person in his family to go to college, grew up in a largely agricultural, Republican-leaning community in southern Ohio. He and his mother plan to vote for Clinton, even though they dislike her, because “she’s not Trump.”

Like Thomas, most of the focus group voters raised their hands in answer to Luntz’s question. They chose words like “incompetent,” “obnoxious,” “fake,” “liar,” and “scary” to describe the candidates, exuding outrage and bewilderment. “They’re both honest and dishonest,” one woman said. “It depends what you want your honesty on.”

“This entire debate is going to be a slugfest,” one on-screen voter predicted. “Back and forth, all personal attacks.”

Some of the New Republicans giggled. Grant Gabriel, a senior from Nevada who had been involved with the College Republicans for three years and has worked for Newt Gingrich, shook his head at the television. “I’m not going to find this funny,” he said.

Gabriel describes himself as a “pragmatic conservative,” being moderate on social issues and farther right on fiscal policy—approximately the outlook of the majority of the self-described conservatives I interviewed for this story. He says he watched with shock as Donald Trump “took the political world by storm.” As a Classics major, however, he believes history has shown that populist movements like Trump’s fizzle out quickly. That’s what he hopes will happen, leaving the Republican Party he loves intact. He wants the long-term lesson of Trump and his furious supporters to be that the Republican Party must do a better job addressing the needs of working-class voters. At the same time, he thinks the party must reject Trumpism (and “Trumpian rhetoric,” to use another favorite New Republican phrase) to move forward.

It’s an argument made by many prominent conservatives across the country. Politicians like Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse and former presidential candidate Jeb Bush are refusing to vote for Trump while claiming that they represent the true values of the Republican Party. It’s an argument that could play well here on campus, too, where a Yale Daily News survey of the Class of 2020 showed that just 5 percent said they supported Trump; in 2012, a survey by the News showed 15 percent said they supported Mitt Romney. Yale’s William F. Buckley Program, which was founded in 2010 to promote intellectual diversity on campus and is known for inviting right-leaning speakers to campus, conducted a national poll that found only 19 percent of four-year college students support Trump, compared to 42 percent who say they’ll vote for Clinton. But the New Republicans are looking beyond campus to insist that they can play a role in redefining the GOP. Even in an insular environment like Yale, they believe their fight is a fight for the soul of the party and the country.

They are still Republicans, and Trump is too.

“If, say, in four or eight years we continue nominating people like Donald Trump and continue down this very dark path, I’ll have to leave the Republican Party,” said Benjamin Rasmussen, a junior and New Republicans co-chair. “But there is hope. There is hope. We’re not out of time yet. We’ll stay with the party, if we’re bringing it back to the party of Reagan. But I don’t know. The future is very uncertain.”

The problem is that it’s not clear what, if anything, the New Republicans and their conservative compatriots can do to influence the voters that this election has revealed and emboldened. The increasingly vocal alt-right has claimed Pepe the Frog as its unofficial mascot, subjected journalists to anti-Semitic trolling on Twitter, and turned a hypothetical wall into a proud symbol of nativism. Even beyond the alt-right, many Trump voters rage against the elitism and arrogance of Washington, and it seems unlikely that anyone with the New Republicans’ approach and Ivy League pedigree will be able to squash them—or convince them of the wisdom of small government principles and overt outreach to non-white voters—after November 8.

In Fitzgerald’s common room, Luntz ceded the screen to Lester Holt, Clinton and Trump. Soon, Trump was proclaiming that the housing crash was good business and not paying taxes made him smart while Clinton whipped out a too-cute line about “Trumped Up Trickle Down” economics. The New Republicans uncorked a bottle of Woodbridge white wine. They laughed at some moments, but they also spent a lot of time with their heads in their hands. Funny this was not. They are still Republicans, and Trump is too.

Less than a year ago, to many Americans, Republicans, and students on this campus, Trump was funny. Rasmussen, a Global Affairs major from the Bay Area who says he’s used to being one of the few conservatives in the classroom, was studying abroad in Russia when Trump rode a golden escalator down to his presidential announcement speech in June 2015. Rasmussen says he “laughed out loud.” But then Trump’s poll numbers spiked and stayed high, and Rasmussen started to get nervous. Something was happening in the Republican Party that he didn’t understand.

When he got back to campus, the Yale College Republicans weren’t doing much. The primaries started, and Trump won New Hampshire, and then South Carolina, and then a slew of states on Super Tuesday. The College Republicans held a debate watch party during the primaries, but only board members came.

“We had all this Popeyes chicken and only like five people were there,” Rasmussen recalls.

No one in the organization supported Trump in the primary, according to Rasmussen and Fitzgerald, but as the months wore on and one candidate after the other fell by the wayside, the group began to discuss what they would do in the event of Trump’s nomination. Early on, there was a division between those who disliked Trump but thought he would be better than any Democrat, and those who would not support Trump under any circumstances. Fitzgerald was especially disturbed by what he saw at Trump’s rallies; as a black man, he says, he would be wary of attending one even if he loved Trump. When the semester ended and summer began, some Republicans on campus and across the country were still hoping for a successful eleventh-hour challenge to Trump at the Republican National Convention. It didn’t happen.

After the Harvard Republican Club announced in early August that it would not be endorsing Trump, the Yale College Republican board members—including Rasmussen; Fitzgerald; Gabriel; sophomore Jay Mondal; and co-presidents Emmy Reinwald, a senior, and Michaela Cloutier, a junior—convened for a discussion via GroupMe about what to do next. They decided that while it was inappropriate to release an official repudiation of Trump, they didn’t need to endorse him, and Gabriel made the point that doing so could turn off potential new members and compromise other work, like campaigning for down-ballot candidates such as Senator Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire. “We reached a compromise between those who hated him and those who felt they had an obligation to the party,” Gabriel recalls.

This strategy of staying quiet and hoping no one asked directly seemed viable, Fitzgerald said, because the College Republicans are such a small group, with three board members at the start of this year and about six people who attend events. As Reinwald and Cloutier would later point out in an article they published on The Tab about their endorsement of Trump, before August 8 the Facebook page had just forty-eight likes. (The Yale College Democrats have over 1,700.)

But a week later, the College Republicans GroupMe blew up again: Someone had created a fake Twitter account and posted the message, “The Yale College Republicans will not be supporting Donald Trump in the fall. More information to come.”

Gabriel, checking Overheard at Yale from Boston, watched news about the Twitter account attract comments asking if the tweet was true. “Things sort of snowballed,” Gabriel says, but he still thought the situation could be resolved with a neutral statement that said nothing about Trump while criticizing the impersonation and theft of the College Republicans’ logo. But the co-presidents saw it differently. They felt the situation demanded a show of vocal support for Trump, and by the time they told the other board members what they were doing, their statement was already up on Facebook. It was shared over two hundred times.

“While not every member of our organization supported Trump in the primary, as an organization and branch of the GOP we support Republicans up and down the ballot,” it read in part. “And yes, that includes supporting Donald Trump for president.”

Rasmussen was on the subway in New York as the events unfolded, and when he got off, the endorsement was up. He and the other future New Republicans tried to persuade Reinwald and Cloutier to revise the statement, but they refused. Individual board members could post their own comments on Facebook, the co-presidents said, but the official stance of the Yale College Republicans was that Trump should be the next president of the United States.

Rasmussen, who founded an organization called the American Patriots Club at his high school, says he had joined the College Republicans because he wanted to advance the cause of conservative politics on campus. He felt the Trump endorsement would make that impossible. “We’d be forever branded, not as conservatives or Republicans, which already has negative connotation on this campus,” he said, “but as Trump supporters.”

Fitzgerald, Rasmussen, Gabriel, and Mondal told Reinwald and Cloutier they were resigning. (They reached out to the last board member, sophomore Ben Zollinger, but he said he supported the endorsement and would keep his position.) They considered trying to impeach the two co-presidents, but the organization’s constitution provided no process for that. Reinwald and Cloutier declined to comment for this story; one College Republican I approached in person said he saw “no necessity to give interviews to the mainstream media.” (I asked to talk with them again after it became clear that Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” video was reshaping the race and the national chairman of the College Republicans announced she would not vote for Trump. Reinwald replied, “We’re not commenting.”)

Among the ex–board members, the idea of starting an anti-Trump Republican organization took shape. Within days, Fitzgerald had built a website and the group had drafted a statement. They emailed Cloutier and Reinwald to explain what they were doing, and then they went live with a Facebook post. The Wall Street Journal, Politico, and Breitbart picked up the story. Rasmussen appeared on Fox News to argue with Ryan Fournier, the National Chairman of Students for Trump, a big-haired, smooth-faced North Carolinian who said the New Republicans were throwing the election to Clinton. Rasmussen countered that he was helping to “save the Republican Party from its eventual collapse.”

Various right-wing sites also wrote about the New Republicans. USA Politics Today called them “appalling,” while the Gateway Pundit (“Where Hope Finally Made A Comeback”) declared them “sick.” As of early October, the Yale New Republicans’ sole Facebook post—their introductory message—had attracted fifty-six likes, as well as comments from people with no apparent Yale affiliation. “You are a disgrace to our country and party,” wrote a man named Phillip Hefner.

Rasmussen dismissed the backlash as a sign that the New Republicans were on the right track. But the online hate also seemed to reflect a disturbing revelation of this election cycle: There is little respect left between the GOP voters who anointed Trump their nominee and the party elite. A group of earnest Yale kids who think they know what’s best for America made a satisfying stand-in punching bag for The Establishment.

The reaction on campus, however, has been largely positive. The New Republicans share articles written about them on their Facebook page and say they received emails from incoming freshmen even before the semester started. But Rasmussen, a first-generation college student whose mother is a mail carrier and whose father is a house painter, hasn’t told his dad about his new extracurricular. His father has been a Trump supporter from the very beginning of the campaign. Rasmussen does, though, talk about the New Republicans with his grandfather, who’s a somewhat less dedicated Trump supporter. The conversations aren’t exactly cheerful.

“He thinks I’m dividing the party. He thinks I’m giving in to Hillary,” Rasmussen says. “He thinks that if we don’t elect Trump, then the Republican Party’s doomed. But if we do elect Trump, the Republican Party’s more doomed.” While Rasmussen was busy trying to build a space for right-leaning Yalies who hate Trump, he had to communicate across a growing fracture between himself and the people back home.

Yale is a liberal campus, but the undergraduate community is dotted with conservative organizations: the Yale Political Union’s Party of the Right, the Federalist Party, the Tory Party, and the Conservative Party; the Yale Free Press; the Objectivist Study Group; and, since 2010, the well-funded, non-profit and non-partisan William F. Buckley Program. Last year, the Buckley Program boasted 174 student fellows (including Reinwald, Cloutier, Rasmussen, and Gabriel; Fitzgerald is applying this year) who attend events and dinners with speakers. Unlike the College Republicans and now the New Republicans, these organizations are devoted primarily to discussing ideas, not to electoral activism.

“Everyone kept shouting, ‘Trump is not a conservative, Trump is not a conservative! And half of America does not care that Trump is not a conservative.”

At a recent reception held by the Buckley Program at The Study, this preference for high-minded principles was on full display. Buckley was celebrating its reprinting of the 1975 Woodward Report, which laid out a strong institutional commitment to free speech. The remarks of federal appellate judge José Cabranes, who got his law degree from Yale in 1965, didn’t sound totally un-Trumpian—he criticized political correctness and the implementation of a shadowy universe of federally-mandated sexual assault bureaucracy on college campuses—but chants of “Build the wall!” would have elicited gasps and stares. Before Cabranes spoke, guests mingled beside an open bar while waiters passed cosmopolitan trays of potstickers and falafel balls.

The election has been a topic of consternation across Yale’s conservative intellectual circles. (The Federalist Party recently held a debate on the topic “Conservatives have no party.”) Abhay Rangray, a sophomore and prospective Buckley Fellow in a suit and red tie whom I had met at the New Republicans’ debate watch party, said the whole spectacle was a sign that America’s democracy was devolving into European politics, with the Democratic Party edging towards Communism and the Republican Party towards nationalism.

“I hope this is a temporary shift, and after the era of Trump we can return to conservatism,” Rangray said. “But it’s frightening because Trump’s success shows that old-school values are not shared by many Republican voters.”

Conservatives in the Buckley Program, like the New Republicans, tend to wax poetic about those old-school values. They’re the values of the Program’s namesake: the founder of the National Review, the twentieth century’s leading American conservative intellectual, and a member of Yale’s class of 1950. Just before graduating from Yale, Buckley wrote God and Man at Yale, a critique of secularism and liberalism at the university. Lauren Noble, who founded the program as a Yale senior in 2010 and is now the executive director, describes Buckley Conservatism as a principled opposition to the expansion of the state’s role in public life. She and senior Josh Altman, president of the Buckley Program, say that true conservatism also rejects racism. William F. Buckley, they note, helped to purge anti-Semitism from the party. (He also criticized the Civil Rights Movement and wrote in a National Review editorial that “the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically.” Noble says that the Civil Rights Movement was not Buckley’s finest moment.)

Ultimately, many self-described Buckley Conservatives recognize that arguing amongst themselves about Trump’s rejection of conservatism is futile.

“Everyone kept shouting, ‘Trump is not a conservative, Trump is not a conservative!’” Noble recalls of the primary season discourse among the conservative intelligentsia. “And half of America does not care that Trump is not a conservative.”

While standing near the cheese table before Cabranes’s remarks, I ran into Karl Notturno, a Buckley Fellow and Yale’s most famous Trump supporter. For over a year, he’s been posting Facebook statuses that support nearly every statement Trump makes and proudly wearing a TRUMP t-shirt around campus. He’s not involved with the Yale College Republicans, and he hasn’t officially worked for the Trump campaign, though he did a bit of phone-banking once, but if you ask almost anyone at Yale whether they know any Trump supporters in the student body, Notturno’s name is often the first—and sometimes the only one—to come up.

Notturno sipped a Pepsi with grenadine as he explained why he preferred Trumpism to pure conservatism. He wore a coat and tie, his blond hair rising in its trademark shock. A registered independent, Notturno says he’s gone through a political transformation since high school from liberal to libertarian to non-ideological.

“Trump is far more practical than ideological,” Notturno said. Many conservatives at Yale, he thinks, get caught up in ideology and principle and fail to explain how those would translate to actual policy solutions. To cite a favorite phrase of his supporters, Trump tells it like it is. He doesn’t care what Bill Buckley would think.

The New Republicans are betting that, moving forward, they can restore conservative principles, and hopefully decorum, to what they believe is their rightful place at the forefront of the party. It’s a bet that could help them make electoral politics more appealing to conservatives at Yale, who don’t canvass and campaign with the gusto of liberals in the Yale College Democrats. But it’s a bet that seems less tenable beyond the Ivory Tower.

Three weeks into the semester, the Yale New Republicans held their first event of the year, an introductory dinner at the Branford Dining Hall. Fitzgerald and Rasmussen set their bags down at a long table by the door, retrieved plates of pasta and hamburgers, and sat down to wait.

Soon a freshman in a baseball cap and red backpack appeared beside the table.

“Is this the Yale New Republicans?” he asked. Fitzgerald and Rasmussen nodded. “What does this group entail? Are there meetings? Is this a meeting?”

“This is more like a social, get-to-know-you dinner,” Rasmussen replied.

The freshman, Perry Falk of La Jolla, dropped his bags and went to get food. Soon two other freshmen, Canaan Harris of northeastern Mississippi and Snigdha Nandipati of San Diego, arrived.

After some small talk, Rasmussen began his pitch: “Basically, what we plan on doing is campaigning for candidates who truly represent the best of the party, not just anyone who slaps an R next to their name.” It can be difficult to nail down what “the best of the party” really means for either major American party, but I got the sense from the New Republicans that they’re looking for fiscal conservatism, more moderation on social issues, and, especially, serious efforts towards racial inclusivity. Few major Republican candidates hit all of these targets, but the New Republicans tend to like people like John Kasich and Marco Rubio.

The freshmen nodded.

“There’s also a tradition of Partisan Pong,” Rasmussen continued, referring to the annual battle between the Yale College Republicans and the Yale College Democrats that takes place in the spring. “We’re going to try to join as a third party and win it.”

At this dining hall gathering of conservatives, the conversation turned not to the wisdom of the Austrian School of Economics or the social value of patriotism, but instead to the real reason everyone was there: Donald Trump. They shook their heads over the infamous Cinco de Mayo taco bowl tweet, decried Trump’s refusal to firmly reject David Duke’s endorsement, and speculated whether this moment marks the end of the Republican Party or just rock bottom before it can make a resurgence. Fitzgerald also brought up his pessimism about the GOP’s ability to draw minority voters.

“It’s not because the Republican Party is racist,” Harris responded. “It’s because almost all the racists are in the Republican Party. I wish the Party did more to say, ‘That’s not us.’ If it isn’t us. I hope it’s not us.”

If the New Republicans’ rhetoric on Trump tends towards the apocalyptic, the College Republicans don’t seem much happier about him. Though the College Republican board members refused to comment for this story, they did invite me to their first meeting of the year, in a classroom in WLH one Monday evening in September. About ten people showed up, most of whom were freshmen. Reinwald and Cloutier taped up a flag, which kept falling off and needing to be re-taped, that said “College Republicans: The Best Party on Campus.” They passed out College Republican glasses and posters, which they encouraged attendees to hang up in their rooms to irritate their roommates.

They broached the topic of Trump without saying his name, using a tone of grim resignation, and then moved on quickly. Calling the year “rough” for Republicans, they emphasized the need to support local candidates.

Reinwald also mentioned that their panlist has over one hundred people—a sign, she said, that Yale is home to more Republicans than the attendees might think based on the size of the meeting. Notturno told me the same thing about Trump voters while at the Buckley event: He says complete strangers sometimes stop him on the street to say they’ll be voting for Trump in November. And once you start looking beyond the circles of people who are actively involved in political groups on campus, it becomes easier to find students who aren’t merely grudgingly supporting Trump.

Snigdha Nandipati, a freshman who came to the New Republicans dinner but said she doesn’t consider herself especially politically minded, supports Trump’s stances on immigration. Most of the outrage regarding some of his comments is a result of media spin, she thinks, to which Trump falls victim because of his inexperience. The Washington Post’s release of the tape showing Trump talking about how he “grabbed [women] by the pussy” gave her some pause, but she was heartened by his apology during the debate two days later. “As a woman, I am not threatened by a couple of words that were said in a harmless casual setting over ten years ago,” she wrote in an email. She plans to vote for Trump in California.

For several Trump supporters on campus, however, the release of the tape on October 7 was a game changer. Earlier that week I had interviewed a junior and a senior, both political science majors, who were happy to go on the record as Trump supporters. One of them, the junior, had supported Trump from the beginning of the Republican primary. He thought the candidate had good ideas about fiscal policy, was moving the party beyond “attempting to regulate morality” by opposing gay marriage and would support small business owners. Trump’s rhetoric “has really been uncalled for at times,” but he thought the media was taking Trump’s words out of context. A few days after the tape came out the junior emailed first to say that he no longer planned to vote for Trump, and then to insist that his name be removed “due to our political climate on campus.” The senior had conisdered Trump “the lesser of two evils”—until the tape came out and he decided that he would not vote for Trump and did not want his name associated with the candidate.

“I am hoping the Republican Party will try and do something with this,” he wrote in an email. “I really don’t know if there is a fix for this type of problem.”

With thirty-six days before the election, a group of Yale Democrats boarded a bus paid for by U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and rode to Keene, New Hampshire to canvass for Hillary Clinton. (The New Republicans are hoping to visit later this month to canvass for Kelly Ayotte with the Harvard Republican Club.) Polls show Trump and Clinton neck and neck in this state of Rockwellian small towns and some of America’s highest opioid overdose death rates.

When you leave Yale, drive to Keene or across the West River to West Haven, in front of house after house, for miles of highway, you see the signs: TRUMP. TRUMP. TRUMP.

The stretch of Route 101 heading into Keene from the Massachusetts border is dotted with TRUMP signs, their bright blue jumping out against a backdrop of autumnal leaves. The Clinton campaign occupies a storefront in Keene’s busy downtown. There was none of the handwringing or anxiety I heard among Yale’s conservatives, nor the ambivalence many liberals hold towards Clinton. Inside the campaign office, by design, you forgot the narrative of presidential election as national existential crisis.

When the Dems knocked on voters’ doors, you remembered. Maxwell Ulin, a senior from Santa Monica, California and president of the Dems, canvassed voters on three streets in a suburban neighborhood of tidy two-story homes.

His list included undecided voters and those who leaned Republican. At each house, Ulin, lanky in light blue jeans and a darker blue button down, knocked and then stood at attention, carefully holding his Hillary for America campaign materials below his waist so the voter wouldn’t see them and get irritated before even opening the door. At the first house, a man cracked open the door.

“Hi—” Ulin began.

“Politics?” the man asked.

“…yes,” Ulin replied.

“Have a good day,” the man said.

At a house with a Trump sign, Ulin followed his orders and still knocked on the front door. The middle-aged, sweatshirt-clad man who answered said everyone in the house would be voting for Trump. Ulin moved on, and I stayed to ask the man what he thought of the Yale New Republicans. He hadn’t heard of them before, and he wasn’t terribly interested.

“That’s their choice,” he said, before shutting the door and returning to the football game.

When he finished his list, Ulin had encountered an approximately representative cross-section of the American electorate: There was a Trump supporter, a Clinton supporter, and a lot of people who were mostly just mad about the whole thing. Good enough. After three hours in New Hampshire, the Dems headed back to New Haven, ultimately spending twice as much time on the bus as they did on the ground.

That same weekend, I met a man named Paul Neugebauer in the parking lot of a church in West Haven. A retired firefighter with grey hair and a thick mustache, he was dropping off donations. We started talking about politics when I mentioned a class I was taking called Modern US Liberalism and Conservatism.

“I’m a right-wing guy,” he said. “I think the country’s being stolen.”

For decades, he was a member of the firefighter’s union in Bridgeport, and just before the 2000 election he attended a union conference where Hillary Clinton gave a speech he found dishonest. He doesn’t like Trump’s arrogance, but he thinks Trump is a patriot. What bothers him most about Clinton isn’t her politics so much as what he sees as her elitism—people like her, he is sure, think people like him are stupid.

Neugebauer’s anger is a problem not only for the Democratic Party, but also for the New Republicans, who in rejecting his nominee are implying that they, too, think he is stupid. This might be the major problem revealed by this election: a large subset of American voters believe that the political elites—a category into which Yale students are lumped even when they technically hold no power—are laughing at them. When I asked the New Republicans how they think the Republican Party can reject Trumpism without alienating his millions of supporters, Rasmussen mentioned the danger of listening to the masses. Gabriel said he hopes Trump-style populism will lose favor after this election. They didn’t have a solution for bringing voters like Neugebauer into a reimagined Republican Party.

I asked Neugebauer what he thought of the New Republicans. He paused for a long moment.

“I think your generation succumbs to a lot of social pressure,” he said. “I think these kids’ decisions were based more on how they appear to the public than what they actually believe.”

It was clear that talk of principles would not persuade Neugebauer to reconsider his support for Trump, because he didn’t even buy that those principles were authentically held. And none of this matters, really, because Neugebauer thinks that if Trump wins, President Obama will somehow create an excuse to remain in office. In other words, Neugebeauer no longer believes that American democracy actually exists.

The New Republicans have to believe that it does. They have to believe that Americans on the right, given the choice, will reject Trumpism and accept the wisdom of rebuilding a big-tent party staked firmly to conservative principles. But when you leave Yale, drive to Keene or across the West River to West Haven, in front of house after house, for miles of highway, you see the signs: TRUMP. TRUMP. TRUMP. And you wonder if the New Republicans, who think their whole party is at a crossroads, might be standing there alone.

 

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