When Trump doesn’t love you back – Politico
“Students for Trump” has members in more than 100 colleges. It has a foothold in 41 states. And it has more than 33,000 followers on Twitter, more than five times the following of rival “Students for Hillary.”
What it can’t get, however, is any attention from Donald Trump — or the time of day from Trump’s campaign.
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Indeed, while the 2016 Clinton campaign and many of Trump’s primary challengers invested heavily in student organizing, the Trump campaign has done almost nothing to reach out to the group and all-but ignored its requests for the GOP nominee’s attention.
It’s not for lack of trying. Since it was founded in October, Students for Trump has been a vocal advocate on social media and a persistent internet thorn in the side of Clinton supporters. It even masterminded the attention-grabbing “Chalkening” movement this spring, where volunteers scribbled supportive messages about the candidate with sidewalk chalk. The movement drew greater notice after Trump’s social media director Dan Scavino tweeted about it and liberal students bashed it in a series of protests at Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Michigan.
And then there’s the group’s colorful Twitter feed, which has adopted Trump’s tabloid sensibilities. Their page includes anti-Hillary Clinton memes, pets, pictures of bikini-clad women and references to Harambe, the gorilla who became a cause célèbre after being killed at the Cincinnati Zoo earlier this year. They’re also in an ongoing spat with the Students For Hillary account, drawing a Team Clinton suggestion to “delete their account” in an encore of sorts to a similar exchange between the candidates themselves months earlier. Their Instagram account is not any less snarky; a popular, recent post featured a picture of Clinton in a jumpsuit alongside the words “Orange Is The New Pantsuit.”
But throughout, their work has taken place in a vacuum of Trump campaign attention, including when they’ve directly reached out to ask for it.
Since founding the group on Oct. 17, 2015, Ryan Fournier, then a freshman at Campbell University in North Carolina, has emailed campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks numerous times, typically with data they’ve collected from people at Trump rallies or at the group’s own pro-Trump events. But he has never received any indication that the information was used. Hicks would just reply with “thank you,” Fournier said.
None of the other seven members of Students for Trump interviewed for this story, from national staff to campus ambassadors, has been in contact with a member of Trump’s campaign about strategy or to assist with coordinating campus chapters.
Hicks supplied Fournier with tickets to a Trump rally in North Carolina, but their infrequent email exchanges never veered toward the student organization becoming more closely organized with the campaign.
“We appreciate their support, and I have communicated with [them] sporadically to coordinate attendance at rallies etc,” Hicks said, “but we have an excellent coalitions team that is working to coordinate with specific groups more closely and maximize use of resources as we look towards the fall.”
Hicks clarified that Students for Trump is “one of many that is not officially affiliated with the campaign.”
Trump’s organization’s general lack of interest in student outreach is in keeping with a campaign that is long on candidate charisma but short on the infrastructure that fills out a traditional presidential run. Instead Trump dominated the primary with a core following and an unparalleled capacity to keep himself at the center of the news, as well as a persona that inspired these students to form the group without a hint of direction (or investment) from the campaign.
But that doesn’t mean the lack of interest hasn’t stung.
One member of Students for Trump, who asked to remain anonymous to speak frankly about the campaign, said the campaign likely wanted to keep its distance from the group, given the possibility of a member spouting off something impolitic on social media.
“If there’s one member of the organization who tweeted something ‘David Duke-esque’ years ago, it would cast the campaign in an unfavorable light,” the member said.
“We’ve been stuck in this essentially purgatory for about a month now,” he added. “They’re jerking us around.”
For Fournier, however, the unrequited nature of his love for Trump has done nothing to dim it, nor to dissuade him and his fellow pro-Trump students from continuing to fight for their candidate. And they keep believing.
“This was my first big, political thing I was doing with my life,” Fournier said.
And he has vowed to keep going, regardless of whether Trump or his campaign shows any new interest. “At this point, it’s solely entirely up to them. I love what we’re doing. No matter what, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,” Fournier said. “Strategy is not something we communicate to them about … Everything we push out at this point in time is developed by our people.”
But while Fournier is careful to praise Trump’s staff and Hicks in particular, his desire for more attention from the candidate and his campaign peeks through.
“Have they really done a good job of getting out there and getting students involved? I think they could do better,” he said in a June interview with Mic, a news website geared toward millennials.
And for past Republicans who harnessed student volunteers for their presidential runs — successful or otherwise — the Trump campaign’s indifference to students is maddening, equivalent to squandering a chance for cheap, easy help.
“They are the most obvious low-hanging fruit,” said Luke Martz, a political consultant in Iowa and former field director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, who has worked extensively with student organizers and as a former campus chapter leader himself.
And indeed, the last successful GOP presidential campaign, President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection run, invested early and often in student organization. Michigan State University student Tim Phelps was handpicked to co-lead Michigan Students for Bush over a year before Bush’s bid began.
Neither Trump or Clinton has excelled with young people thus far in the campaign. Younger Democrats overwhelmingly preferred Sen. Bernie Sanders to Clinton during the primary. In the general, however, she’s beating Trump soundly, though neither candidate is considered very preferable to young voters. In a Pew survey from Aug. 18, Clinton beats Trump 38-27 among voters under 30, with Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson taking 19 percent of the vote and Green Party candidate Jill Stein at 9 percent.
Still, it is Clinton’s campaign that has made a concerted, long-standing effort to win over students.
There are nearly 750 student volunteers, spread out across 210 chapters in over 40 states, each with a direct line of communication to a member of Clinton’s staff specifically dedicated to millennial outreach. That’s national campus and student organizing director Kunoor Ojha, who joined the Clinton team in June from Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and now serves as the primary liaison between student groups, organizers and the campaign.
At least three other Clinton staff members are tasked with specifically managing millennial outreach, which includes communication with college chapters as well as general messaging to voters under 30, out of the campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. These four staffers work alongside paid campus organizers, field directors and individual campaign staff in different departments, like Latino outreach, who are tasked specifically with targeting millennials.
The Clinton campaign pays organizers to recruit student chapter leaders. And if volunteers spring up on their own to form chapters — as they did at the University of Pennsylvania and other schools throughout the state — they have an official line of contact to the campaign on the statewide and national level.
Much of the groundwork for Clinton’s student outreach was laid nearly two years ago. At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, a pro-Clinton group was formed in the fall of 2014 as an offshoot of the “Ready for Hillary” super PAC.
Once the campaign officially launched, the chapter switched its name to “Penn for Hillary” and began regular communication with the campaign. That group of Penn students, nestled on a campus in West Philadelphia, would receive campaign updates from Eden Tesfaye, Ojha’s predecessor as the Clinton campaign liaison to student groups.
“It was a very robust communication system,” said Michael Ramdatt, the executive political director of Penn for Hillary. “There was Facebook, email, Slack. It made the campaign feel a lot smaller.”
Tesfaye would ask them to phone bank homes in Iowa and New Hampshire ahead of the early voting contests there and field queries from burgeoning Clinton chapters at Lafayette University and Franklin & Marshall College.
“It’s as if she were a friend,” Ramdatt said of Tesfaye, the former Clinton student liaison. “In a lot of ways, I consider her a friend.”