A schism in the Republican Party has ricocheted through the country from the White House to ASU as the November elections approach in the first real test of post-Trump Republican electoral health.
The rift manifests itself with a splintering of the long-time active conservative group on campus, the ASU College Republicans, with a spin-off group called College Republicans United, which emerged as a Trump-oriented alternative to the more traditional College Republicans.
The split officially happened at the beginning of 2018, when CRU President Richard Thomas said a breakdown of understanding over bylaws, values and organization elections led them to leave and start their own organization.
“What happened was about a year and a half ago ... a schism occurred within the group of College Republicans,” Thomas, a senior studying elementary education, said. “ASU College Republicans are seen as more of an establishment kind of conservative group … the John McCain branch of the Republican Party.”
Thomas said that it was a “conservative-purity test,” and an atmosphere lacking in acceptance for him and fellow Trump supporters involved with the ASU College Republicans that pushed them out, and that led to them codifying the separation between the two clubs.
“It's in our bylaws ... not to work with the College Republicans,” Thomas said. ”Because of the issues and the people that were with the other group ... there's no room for working together.”
Judah Waxelbaum, a sophomore studying political science, was affiliated with the ASU College Republicans leading up to the split. He is now the chairman of its parent organization, the Arizona Federation of College Republicans which oversees all affiliated groups in the state.
CRU, which began at ASU, does not associate with any overseeing body including the Federation of College Republicans.
Waxelbaum said that the original organization aimed to be all-inclusive and accepting of conservative values.
“The goal of the federation … is to get Republicans elected and spread conservatism on our campus,” Waxelbaum said. “That’s what College Republicans is about, spreading the Republican ideas of smaller government and personal responsibility, no matter what shade of red it is in."
Waxelbaum refuted Thomas' claims and said that it was “sad that a conservative group would attack another.” He also said that while there was a breakdown between the groups, he views the diversity of ideas in the Republican Party as a strength.
“I wouldn't consider our differences (to be) disagreements,” he said. “I think if anything, it makes us stronger as a group because we represent what the Republican Party means to different people.”
Waxelbaum decried the animosity between the groups, saying that he was moving forward and that whether he worked with them or not, he was supportive of any groups that were able to bring conservatives into the Party.
“If they're successful at bringing people to the conservative movement, I commend them for it,” he said. “But if they’re attacking other republicans, it’s just going to hurt republicans as a whole."
Thomas, the president of the self-described splinter-group disagrees, saying there is no chance of collaboration due to the excluding nature of the older organization.
Other organizations that espouse conservative values are not directly involved in the spat, like Young Americans for Liberty who both College Republicans and CRU collaborate with.
This phenomenon is not unique to ASU, however, with the schism tracing back to the Republican Presidential Primary in 2016 when a coalition of Never-Trump Republicans vowed to abandon support of the party if Trump’s politics were the face of it.
Thomas said that ASU is “a microcosm of everything that's going on in Washington D.C.,” where “there's definitely a schism between the Trump republicans, the ones that got him elected and (are) radically for him, and the ones that were within the Jeff Flake, Lindsay Graham, John McCain branch.”
The director of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at ASU, Paul Carrese, said this reckoning makes the political terrain increasingly difficult for traditional conservatives, such as Sen. Jeff Flake who is ceding his seat by not running for reelection this year.
“It seems to me ... all the incentives and all the structure we felt makes it difficult to be that kind of figure there,” he said.
Carrese said this is caused by polarization, which starts when personalities and short term wins take precedent over coalitions and compromise.
"It has reached a new level because of the extraordinarily unique situation of having Donald Trump as the president and party leader,” Carrese said. “It's a new level of division — there's some evidence in the primary races so far in the country that the turnout is stronger on the democratic side than is the turnout on the republican side ... so I'm sure the republicans in various states, including Arizona, are worried."
While tensions run high between the two conservative groups on campus, Waxelbaum said that the party would benefit from coming together.
“We put our titles before the message and as long as we do that, we're only hurting ourselves,” he said. “About five republican clubs that I could think of at Arizona State ... do not co-host anything or work together and that is wrong, and it shouldn't be that way because quite frankly, if all the republican clubs work together, it would be overwhelming for the spreading of conservatism on our campus.”