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College Republicans At Ohio State Consider The Future Of The GOP


Ohio is considered a must-win state for Donald Trump. That's why our colleague Robert Siegel is there this week talking with Republicans. He's brought us the voices of working-class voters inspired by Trump's campaign and establishment Republicans who are turned off by it. Now Robert checks in with some young Republicans.

ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: If you're 20 years old, the country went to war when you were 5, and the economy tanked when you were 12. You've been aware of two presidents - George W. Bush and Barack Obama. You've grown up in a time when college costs were going up and household incomes weren't. Where does that experience leave young Republicans? We went to the Ohio State University in Columbus to find out.

NICK FRANKOWSKI: All right, y'all - Pledge of Allegiance very informally, but...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America...

SIEGEL: These are the College Republicans at their weekly meeting last night in the student union.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: ...Under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

SIEGEL: Someone forgot to bring a flag, so they pledged to a Google image of an American flag projected onto a screen. This was a very sparsely attended meeting - just nine students - because it was up against Game 7 of the World Series.

FRANKOWSKI: So another very quick, informal meeting because I know - I can see some Indians shirts, so you guys are very anxious to go watch the game.

SIEGEL: Nick Frankowski, a member of the group's board, ran the meeting.

FRANKOWSKI: Yeah, so six days until the election. It's a close one. You guys have been watching the polls and stuff. Especially from last Friday, it's really, really tightening up. So it's...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Don't trust the polls.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Go out and vote.

FRANKOWSKI: Well, yes. I wasn't saying don't vote. But no - definitely it's a lot tighter than it was even a week ago. And so it's anybody's race.

SIEGEL: Donald Trump's candidacy was not universally popular with the College Republicans. They never formally endorsed him. But a group called Students for Trump sprang up. I sat down with Nick Frankowski and with Amanda Tidwell, who's active in the Trump group.

He is a sophomore political science-economics double major from Cincinnati. She's a junior economics major from Dayton. Both come from professional households. Both describe themselves as conservative, and both support the Republican nominee - Nick with some reservations, Amanda with unreserved enthusiasm. I asked them if Trump strikes them as truly conservative.

AMANDA TIDWELL: I don't really like to talk about labels and label people conservative or Democrat. Is he crass - absolutely. Does he say things off the handle - absolutely. But that is - you know, our country is in such turmoil right now that we don't have time for political correctness.

SIEGEL: Well, how do you feel about Donald Trump's conservatism?

FRANKOWSKI: I will openly admit I have a lot of policy differences with him personally. But you know, politics is a game of alternatives, and you get a known quantity in Hillary Clinton and a lesser-known quantity in Donald Trump. And I think, you know, he is the Republican nominee. And I think he is the best possible standard bearer we've got right now.

SIEGEL: When Donald Trump says make America great again, it resonates with some older voters who remember better times. But these college students' memories barely reach back to the 20th century. What does Donald Trump's slogan mean to them?

TIDWELL: First and foremost, I think he wants America to be respected as a world power. Right now we are not respected at all. You know, when Obama said that, you know, when Syria uses chemical weapons against their people, that is the red line; and when they cross it, we will do X, Y, Z.

We didn't do a damn thing. Pardon my language. But we know that we're not No. 1 in the world, and we know that we're not the best. And we want to be the best. And the fact that Trump wants that, too, is just phenomenal.

FRANKOWSKI: For Nick Frankowski, Trump's slogan evokes a time after 9/11. That was one of his earliest memories, he says.

FRANKOWSKI: I remember when it happened. They shut down my preschool, and my mom came and picked me up. She had to pull over to the side of the road because she was crying. And then after that, I remember at least for a little while, everyone felt good about being American and proud about being American. We knew who we were.

SIEGEL: We were for freedom and democracy, as he recalls. Now he says the country is in an identity crisis. I asked Nick about what it's like being a Republican on this college campus. They are a distinct minority. And he claims they're a minority that is sometimes disrespected. He described one incident last spring.

FRANKOWSKI: Someone on the oval in the middle of our campus wrote Trump 2016, and a huge protest came just because of this chalk. And we were like, well, he's one of our candidates. Like, we think people are allowed to like him, you know? This is a college campus. And we got a lot of, F your beliefs; you're not allowed to say that here; that's hate speech. It was just amazing seeing the anger and hostility that that produced.

SIEGEL: More recently, the Trump campaign was stung by the scandalous "Access Hollywood" video. Amanda Tidwell's reaction...

TIDWELL: At first I was like, oh, my goodness (laughter), like, this guy - he has a language on him, you know? I was taken aback, but I wasn't one of those people that was like, oh, I'm pulling my support for Trump.

SIEGEL: But you accept his explanation that actually he was describing things that he has not done.

TIDWELL: I don't think he - he said he didn't, so I - why wouldn't I believe him? And he apologized for saying those things, so I absolutely, a hundred percent, you know - I'm Christian. I believe in grace. And so I forgave him.


FRANKOWSKI: I do think character is an important part for a president. Even looking back on presidents that I am not particularly fond of, even our current president, President Obama, regardless of our policy differences, I have no doubt that he's a good man, you know?

I do have serious questions about whether Hillary Clinton is a good person. I do have serious questions sometimes about whether Donald Trump is a good person. It's very frustrating to see the two major candidates display very questionable behavior to say the least.

SIEGEL: Ohio State University undergraduates Nick Frankowski of the College Republicans and Amanda Tidwell of Students for Trump. The next event for the College Republicans, by the way, is a tailgate party Saturday with Ohio Senator Rob Portman. It's before the Ohio State-Nebraska game. Nick Frankowski is un-ambivalently positive about Portman, and Buckeyes football is a cause that cuts across all lines here in Columbus.

CORNISH: That's our colleague Robert Siegel this week reporting from the swing state of Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.