National ‘Students for Trump’ effort has NC roots

Eric Trump, left, with Ryan Fournier, a sophomore at Campbell University, who founded the national Students for Trump coalition.
Eric Trump, left, with Ryan Fournier, a sophomore at Campbell University, who founded the national Students for Trump coalition. Courtesy of Ryan Fournier

The national effort to get the youth vote out for Donald Trump is being led by two students at Campbell University in Buies Creek.

Ryan Fournier, a sophomore, started Students for Trump in October 2015, when he created a Twitter account to spread Trump’s message to students. Several months after the Twitter page started, the Trump campaign asked if Fournier would be willing to create a larger coalition. He agreed and enlisted co-founder John Lambert, a junior at Campbell, to help.

The organization – which is in contact with the Trump campaign but not directly affiliated with it – now has more than 250 chapters and 5,000 volunteers nationwide, according to a running count on its website. The number of applications for its campus ambassador program is growing every day, Fournier said.

“We’re overflowing with applications,” Fournier, 20, said. “People are just so motivated. We’ve motivated a lot of students to get out there and be a part of this election, this campaign cycle, since it’s so historic.”

As the organization has expanded, so has its Twitter presence. The account now has 37,500 followers and more than 2,000 tweets. The Students for Hillary Twitter page has just over 7,000 followers.

Fournier said much of the outreach Students for Trump does in the state, and nationally, is through social media.

“It’s one of our biggest aspects right now,” Fournier said. “We get probably close to 4 million impressions per month. I don’t even think the College Republican National Committee gets that.”

The battle for youth

An average of recent polls by RealClearPolitics shows Republican nominee Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton deadlocked in North Carolina, with Trump at 44 percent of the vote and Clinton trailing by less than half a percentage point.

Both candidates have focused on courting North Carolina’s millennials. The youth vote helped President Barack Obama win the state in 2008. Trump campaigned at High Point University last week, and Clinton held a rally at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh on Tuesday, two weeks after campaigning at UNC Greensboro.

Clinton’s North Carolina campaign noted it has organizers and volunteers in communities and on college campuses across the state registering North Carolinians to vote.

“We expect a record number of North Carolina voters of all ages and backgrounds to cast their ballots early,” said Andrew Estrada, Clinton’s North Carolina press secretary. “We continue to work so they have access to convenient early hours and locations to make their voices heard in this critical election.”

Fournier predicts the race in the state won’t be close.

“North Carolina is going to come in with a strong win here,” he said, noting that the predictions his organization makes “aren’t really what you would see on the news.”

North Carolina is one of the states where the youth vote could have the biggest impact in the country, says Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University.

In February, CIRCLE listed the state as one of 10 where millennials could “sway the election” – and Kawashima-Ginsberg said young people have even “more leverage” now that a law that eliminated same-day registration, required voters to have photo ID and reduced the early-voting period has been struck down as unconstitutional.

He’s a controversial character whether you love him or hate him.

Hayden Vick, chairman of College Republicans at UNC-Chapel Hill

Young voters in North Carolina tend to vote differently than their older, conservative counterparts, she said, adding that in this election even conservative-leaning young people might choose not to support the controversial Republican nominee.

She pointed out that a CBS survey conducted Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 showed that 57 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds in the state said they would vote for Clinton if the election were being held today; 19 percent said they would vote for Trump.

The last time there was such a large divide was in 2008, when young people voted for Obama over Republican Sen. John McCain by a 2-to-1 ratio, she added.

‘Great guy’

Fournier, 20, was born in Longbranch, N.J., but his family moved when he was young to Chapel Hill and then Clayton. He said his family is conservative and that he’s always identified as a Republican – which he said made Campbell a natural fit.

“Choosing Campbell University was easy,” Fournier said. “It’s close to home, and it’s the 25th most conservative school in the country.”

He said he was “candidate shopping” before the primaries began, and was particularly interested in Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, but was drawn to Trump’s positions on immigration, the Second Amendment and trade, which he said convinced him Trump was the best candidate for the job.

For the last year, he’s been a dedicated supporter – spending between five and six hours a day on Students for Trump on average, much of which he says is spent promoting the candidate on social media.

He said he’s spoken to Trump directly on “three or maybe four occasions” and described him as a “great guy, very humble.”

“He loves to get information from students on how we think he should work or do something different in a certain state,” Fournier said.

Mixed support

Support for Trump among young Republicans on college campuses in the Triangle varies among universities.

At Duke, where Fournier confirmed Students for Trump has no representatives, the College Republicans club decided to “abstain” from endorsing the Republican nominee. Madison Laton, a sophomore and the vice chair of the club, said the executive board voted on whether to endorse, “and not endorsing Trump won.”

Laton, a political science major from Georgia, explained that the club decided against issuing a statement against Trump, like College Republicans at Harvard University did.

At N.C. State, where Fournier said Students for Trump has a “big presence,” the College Republicans never considered not supporting the nominee, said the club’s president, Sean Harrington, a junior political science major from Massachusetts.

“We back our nominee,” Harrington said. “It’s kind of as simple as that.”

Harrington said that after the primaries ended, it was time for the party to come together.

“Those who might have an issue or two with Donald Trump have remained fairly quiet about it,” Harrington said. “They’re not trying to pull any of the stunts that the Harvard College Republicans did. They realize that kind of denouncement is damaging to the party and damaging to all candidates up and down the ticket.”

Hayden Vick, chairman of College Republicans at UNC-Chapel Hill, said his club has decided “not to take an official vote” and that the consensus is “very much in the middle,” with some members supporting Trump, some opposing him and several – including himself – trying to decide where they stand.

“He’s a controversial character whether you love him or hate him,” said Vick, a junior studying history and Southern studies. “We don’t want to alienate our members who feel strongly either way.”

“We’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place,” he added.

Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629