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When asked to choose the best Republican candidate for president, Urban’s largely liberal student body reacted with indecision, honest consideration, and at times, derision. Interviews and an informal survey reveal a lack of consensus, with choices ranging from establishment stalwarts to conservative insurgents.
Many students were unable to select a single outstanding candidate, owing to unfamiliarity with the large Republican field, which now comprises 15 candidates.
This primary has been full of fiery rhetoric and rapid directional change. While some candidates have been successful in getting their messages out, many struggle to gain traction amid a large slate of G.O.P. hopefuls and a limited supply of endorsements, donors, and media airtime.
“At this point, it’s sort of a fight for the media and who can get the most attention and I don’t know whether that’s going to sway people’s votes,” said Lena Galinson (’16).
Sophia Vahanvaty (’19) said of the race, “It’s extended into the celebrity realm.”
Many identify brash businessman Donald Trump as the election’s primary entertainer.Trump has dominated media coverage of the primary, and leads national polls. He has become known for his anti-establishment, often contradictory positions, as well as for bombastic and divisive rhetoric, particularly surrounding illegal immigration and women.
“Trump entertains, which is what the public desires these days,” wrote a survey respondent.
Others thought that Trump’s appeal is emblematic of growing anger with conventional politics.
“He puts things very bluntly, and politicians have a reputation of dancing around what they mean to say and not answering questions,” said Sophie Klein (’18).
One student wrote in support of the candidate, “Trump is not a politician, which is actually what makes him so unique and in my opinion, good. (Politicians) get nothing done, and they have their own interests in mind.”
While Urban students were largely opposed to Trump, they were divided over the best candidate choice.
A plurality chose former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has accumulated financial and political support from the party establishment. He has more moderate views on issues like immigration and education.
“Jeb Bush is the only candidate who isn’t willing to totally bend over for the Tea Party,” wrote a survey respondent. “He sticks to his beliefs, and appears to be farther center than most of the other candidates.”
Another popular choice was Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a son of Cuban immigrants who identifies with the Tea Party but also helped craft a bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate.
Klein supports Rubio, writing, “I really like what he’s saying about the Islamic State: giving the president more power and staying in Iraq until it’s safe.”
Ben Carson, a soft-spoken neurosurgeon with no experience in public office, ranks second in national polls. He has avoided the rancor of many other campaigns, and appeals to grassroots-level religious conservatives.
“He isn’t a politician and that is really important to me,” wrote one student, a solid conservative, of Carson. “He is quiet, yet bold at the same time and is really drawing a silent majority.”
Some students chose candidates for reasons other than policy. A survey respondent who identified as a solid liberal chose hardline conservative Ted Cruz, a Texas senator of Cuban descent who advocated for the 2013 government shutdown. The reasoning offered: “He is not Caucasian and would offer diversity.”
Two thirds of survey respondents identified as left of center, while only one in ten leaned right. Therefore, most Urban students chose candidates most likely to compromise with Democrats.
“The key to winning elections (is) when you’re able to speak to the majority of Americans instead of far right, far left radicals,” said Nolan Choy (‘17).
Some students expressed indiscriminate contempt for conservative beliefs.One respondent selected Donald Trump and wrote, “If we are hypothetically making the whole country go to shit then might as well go all out.”
Galinson believes partisan tribalism distracts from substantive debate. “I have an issue when you have to label yourself as Democrat or Republican,” she said. “It’s rare to see people from separate parties working together.”
She went on, “People want to have their opinion heard, and they do that by being extreme.”