Interest in the Harvard Republican Club this fall is—in the language of the GOP standard bearer they declined to endorse—“yuge.”
One hundred-thirty to 150 new students attended the club’s introductory meeting last week, according to club president Declan P. Garvey ’17. In comparison, Garvey said that there were about 30 students who showed up a similar introductory meeting last year.
The Harvard Republicans announced just over a month ago that it would not be supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, a decision that garnered widespread attention from large media outlets ranging from The Washington Post to CNN.
Garvey said the club’s firm renunciation of Trump’s polarizing rhetoric may have helped attract new members.
“[The increase in interest] was kind of the opposite of what we expected with Trump getting the nomination,” Garvey said. “We were worried because he is so polarizing. It’s already hard enough to be Republican or conservative on campus, even more so when it’s tied to something like that at the national level.”
Kiera O’Brien ’20, a new member of the Harvard Republican Club, agreed with Garvey’s assessment. She cited the club’s decision as a motivating factor for her interest, an opinion she says is common among her peers.
“There is a small proportion [of new members] that are Trump supporters. But definitely the majority is not,” she said.
This year, according to The Crimson’s annual survey of the freshman class, nearly half of surveyed students identifying as “strong Republicans” said they viewed Trump unfavorably, though a majority of this group said they would vote for him if the vote were held today. Of respondents who identified themselves as a “not a very strong Republican,” 24 percent said they would vote for Trump.
The Harvard College Democrats also report an election cycle attendance bump, though not to the extent of the Republican counterparts. According to Susan X. Wang ’17, the club’s president, attendance at its introductory meeting last week was up to 70 compers, as compared to the usual 30 or 40.
“We’re trying to capitalize on [the timing],” Wang said. “So even after the election, people can stay involved. There are still important things that need to be done.”
Both clubs anticipate campaigning for their respective party’s candidates in the coming weeks, especially for tight races closer to campus. The Republicans will focus more on down-ballot races this year following their rejection of Trump. They plan on hosting a phone bank and leading a canvassing trip to New Hampshire in support of Republican senator Kelly Ayotte, according to Garvey.
Wang also said that the Democrats similarly plan on hosting a phone bank for Sen. Ayotte’s challenger in the senatorial race, New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan.