At Saturday’s student organization fair, the GW College Republicans adorned their table with a large banner, a laptop to sign up for email updates, a container of mini-doughnuts – and a life-size cardboard cutout of President Donald Trump.
The College Republicans were embracing the president as they sought to attract freshmen to their ranks – the first time in more than eight years that the group has recruited new members with a Republican in the White House, leaders of the group said. The move completed a transformation for the group, which – facing internal disagreements within its membership – opted not to endorse Trump before last fall’s election.
But now, the organization is using Trump as key part of their recruiting strategy.
Sara Dougherty, the director of public relations for the College Republicans, said the group is using new tactics, like advertising Trump at recruitment events, to attract students to the organization – a firm public stance that is not “toeing the line” of neutrality.
“I think that our setup with the cutout of Donald Trump and the College Republicans banner attracts the Republican crowd,” she said. “Most students already know that they want to be interested in College Republicans.”
But even with the cutout of Trump at her side, Dougherty said the group is committed to serving the needs of students across the conservative spectrum. Group members have varying opinions on the president – one of the main reasons why the organization chose to stay neutral last year, she said.
“There are many students that aren’t supporters of everything that President Trump does, so we want to encompass their views,” she said. “But we also have members interning for President Trump, so really encompassing all views under the Republican umbrella on campus.”
Allie Coukos, the chairwoman of the College Republicans, said the group chose to embrace Trump this fall simply because he is a Republican president.
“Our job is to serve as the mouthpiece for the party on campus and represent the views of our members to the party,” she said. “He’s part of party structure. It’s our job to support him on campus.”
But Coukos said that does not mean the College Republicans – a group comprised of ‘never Trumpers,’ neutral individuals and ardent supporters – stand behind every action of the president. Still, the organization’s membership applauded the switch to openly embrace Trump, she said.
“A lot of members have said that they like the fact there’s at least someone supporting the administration or trying to really get his message out and get the Republican message out,” she said.
While the organization faced backlash following last year’s election, Coukos said this year has been heckler-free, though there is typically a certain degree of alienation from other student organizations, with or without Trump.
“We are on a liberal campus, and so I think that inherently will put you in a position where people might not want to listen to you just because you’re a Republican,” she said. “CRs serves to be that community for them to give them that place to talk about their beliefs and values.”
But Coukos said incorporating Trump into the organization’s recruitment strategy hasn’t greatly impacted the actual number of students who sign up. She said the organization is more policy-focused, which is what they hope to portray on campus.
“What I view it as is creating a forum to discuss the principles outlined in the Republican party platform,” she said.
As for the Trump cutout, Coukos said buying it off eBay proved to be a “good investment.”
“It’s definitely caught people’s attention during org fairs,” she said.