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A new version of the College Republicans struggles for an identity

White columns stand ominously against the backdrop of a grey sky. The green leaves of a tree partially obstruct the view of the columns.

Whig Hall

Veena Krishnaraj / The Daily Princetonian

Earlier this month, in advance of a number of state-wide elections, Princeton political groups took part in canvassing and outreach efforts to get out the vote. 

Notably absent from these groups — which included the College Democrats, the Princeton chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America — was the College Republicans, which, unlike its left-leaning counterpart, did not organize any programming.


The group has historically had difficulty sustaining consistent activity levels, being reliant on strong personalities that occasionally cycle through the University to revive it at recurring nadirs on a campus that has a strong conservative ecosystem. 

The well-organized and comparatively highly active James Madison Program was founded with a half million dollar donation from a foundation that aimed to “establish conservative cells” at “the most influential schools.” The program is led by prominent conservative legal scholar Professor Robert P. George. The Princeton Tory is a conservative magazine with nine current undergraduates on its masthead that publishes far more than its progressive counterpart, The Prog. Other groups with primarily conservative memberships such as The Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC) have played significant roles in debates around free speech, a major issue on campus. 

And yet the only explicitly Republican group, College Republicans, has long struggled to stay afloat. Does the difficulty of running the organization on campus speak to broader questions of campus apathy towards politics? Or does it instead speak to a modern conservative movement in which an organization focused on electoral politics has no place?


I sat down with Jaden Stewart ’26, the new president of the club, in the Tiger Tea Room in Firestone Library on two occasions to talk about his ambitions for the club and what he sees as potential obstacles. In our conversations, Stewart was discernibly cautious, not answering some of my questions while often reiterating an openness to dissenting opinions. He acknowledged there was a certain stigma associated with identifying as a conservative. 

“It’s difficult to sell Republicanism as a brand,” Stewart said. “If you don’t really know a lot about public policy, it tends to be ‘Oh, Republicans, oh they’re racist, oh they’re sexist’. Whereas [to me] it’s more thinking about how we can use business to create opportunities to improve the lives of marginalized people.”


These concerns are not unique to Stewart.

According to Evan Draim ’16, who was the president of College Republicans for two years, a major obstacle to growing College Republicans on campus was the social stigma associated with identifying as a Republican.

“[There was a] feeling that if people join College Republicans that it’s going to be a demerit in their social life or their [ability] to fit in elsewhere on campus,” he said in an interview with the ‘Prince’.

He continued, “if identifying as a Republican is something that’s going to ostracize you from your social network, you’re not going to do it.”

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Alex Maugeri ’07, another former president of College Republicans, discussed the social repercussions of affiliating with the group. “It definitely hurts my prospects with some girls, I’ve noticed that,” he said to the ‘Prince’ at the time. “Some girls are not too happy when they hear I’m the president of the College Republicans.” 

A number of conservative activists on Princeton’s campus have drawn attention to the fact that this stigma around expressing conservative opinions has pushed students farther right in their political convictions and stilted free expression, notably in a column for the New York Times.

Some have pushed back against the argument that conservatives are unfairly marginalized.

“There is a stigma against being conservative, but I also think it depends, and I think some of that stigma is against the more heinous beliefs,” Nate Howard ’25, President of College Democrats, told the ‘Prince.’ “I’m in Tower; when we do bicker, like, no, I don’t want bigots in my eating club. And like, they may say, ‘oh, conservative views are marginalized,’ but like, which views, let’s unpack it, right?  I don’t want people in my eating club that will make trans people feel uncomfortable.”

Although Stewart told me that he has not felt any stigma around identifying as Republican on campus, he was in our conversations sometimes cagey and often indirect regarding his political views. He refused to articulate his position on any policy issues. He also would not tell me how many members there are of College Republicans. 

Stewart would not engage on which candidates in the ongoing presidential primary he believes is most popular among group members, only sharing that he has had conversations with people who favor Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy.

After my first interview with Stewart, he sent a message in GroupMe to a group involved with College Republicans, telling them that a ‘Prince’ reporter was writing an article about the group and asking members to not agree to an interview with me. I reached out to over a dozen active conservative students on campus, asking to interview them for the article — none responded.


“I think there’s this perception that our [Ivy League] conservatives are special, distinct, and extremely intelligent and thoughtful. And I actually think that they’re part of the same ecosystem that other conservatives across the country are a part of, and they’re subject to the same trends that are going on across the country,” Howard said.

As Stewart tries to resurrect College Republicans, he faces all the social challenges and competition from other conservative organizations faced by his predecessors. But, unlike his predecessors, hanging over College Republicans is now the increasing radicalization of the national Republican Party and, especially, lies about the 2020 election.

Earlier this month, Larry Giberson ’23 was sentenced to two months of incarceration, six months of home detention, and $2000 in fines for his participation in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

Stewart made sure to mention that he did not know Giberson nor had Giberson ever been involved with College Republicans.

I asked Stewart if he sees College Republicans as having to take a position on the legitimacy of that election. He responded “No, no. There are people who identify as Republicans who take very different stances on that and our job is to cater to both of them.”

Stewart’s statement speaks to the challenges that an explicitly political group faces with a more radical Republican party. Some Republican students disagree with the election conspiracies being spread by Republican politicians and may prefer to engage with conservative ideas more generally. But for those aligned with politicians, priorities have changed from electoral politics to the culture war.

To Howard, the ongoing radicalization and shifting priorities of the Republican Party has distilled down into conversations among campus conservative groups, marking a sharp distinction between College Republicans and its left-leaning counterpart. 

“I think a lot of progressives are very focused on doing things. I think there’s a lot more interest in thinking about things on the right, not I think they’re more thoughtful necessarily,” Howard said. “I think [Republicans on campus] are much more focused on the national culture war stuff than winning elections, which I would also say is true of Republican politicians.”

This tendency was embodied by recent, vocal campus conservatives, notably including Stewart’s immediate predecessor, Adam Hoffman ’23. 

In his time on campus, Hoffman dominated the conservative groups, bridging together both academic conservative groups and political ones. In addition to being the president of College Republicans, he was the Clio party chair and publisher of the Tory.

Hoffman has been able to extend his career in campus conservative activism into a role in the broader conservative movement. As a student, Hoffman published with The National Review on campus issues. In his senior year, Hoffman wrote about the conservative movement in The New York Times, and he was invited on Fox News to talk about it. As of this summer, he works for the Ron Desantis campaign. 

The ability to gain a broader platform for views, along with a campus environment less friendly to conservative ideas may have led to a lack of urgency surrounding engagement with more tangible local political issues, including canvassing. In other words, the understanding of what entails meaningful political involvement is very different from that of groups like College Democrats. 

A desire to appeal to these national outlets may also influence choice of topics.

Last year, POCC invited the writer Abigail Shrier to speak about her book “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.” Earlier this month, they hosted an event with Riley Gaines, a former swimmer at the University of Kentucky who, after tying for fifth place in an event with the transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, began advocating for banning transgender women from women’s sports.

Despite being the only conservative club that is explicitly political and nominally electoral, College Republicans has similarly focused its events thus far on discussing cultural issues. 

One of the first events hosted by Stewart last spring was a screening of Candance Owens’s falsehood-ridden documentary entitled “The Greatest Lie Ever Sold: George Floyd and the Rise of BLM.” The club also sent a group of people to Rutgers to volunteer at an event featuring Owens. 

Stewart refused to discuss events in my conversation with him. According to people familiar with the club, College Republicans is planning a series of events about climate change, which will feature speakers who deny that humans have contributed to it.


The College Republicans have also historically struggled with fostering political involvement on a campus that has, more broadly, harbored a sentiment of political apathy. The group has been reliant on a recurring stream of very involved students who have taken initiative to revive the club at its low points. The current version of the College Republicans is one with a substantially smaller focus on electoral politics.

The group was a very active presence in the early and mid 1990s, boasting 125 members in 1992, more than 60 of whom were actively volunteering for Republican campaigns. 

But by 2002, College Republicans only had between 25 and 30 active members, reflecting a broader sentiment of political apathy on campus. David Brooks documented this in his profile, “The Organization Kid,” “There are a lot of things these future leaders no longer have time for.” Brooks also wrote about Princeton students at the turn of the millennium. “I was on campus at the height of the election season, and I saw not even one Bush or Gore poster. I asked around about this and was told that most students have no time to read newspapers, follow national politics, or get involved in crusades.”

The group kept growing in its membership and political activity, ballooning to 300 students in 2006, thanks to Maugeri, one of several presidents who successively breathed life into the organization. In the same year, the group undertook extensive campaigning efforts for candidates in New Jersey.

By 2008, College Republicans gained over 100 new members. “There is a positive energy and enthusiasm within the Campus Republicans that is so refreshing,” Chloe Davis ’12 wrote in an email to the ‘Prince’ at the time. “In a university where the majority of the student population supports Obama’s candidacy, it’s been really fun to be part of a group that is just as excited about the McCain campaign.”

For that election, College Republicans increased their canvassing efforts over fall break and led trips of dozens of students at a time to knock on doors in swing districts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 

The insurgent Tea Party movement a few years later brought increased internal dissension to College Republicans, especially as the group’s membership and activity waned. The group was seen as aligned with the Tea Party, which led to calls for it to moderate.

By 2012, Draim arrived on campus to find a nonexistent College Republicans club.

 “When I arrived at Princeton, the club was pretty much inactive and didn’t do much … it was such a small club that, arriving as a [first-year], I was basically handed the presidency of the College Republicans by the outgoing president when I arrived,” he said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’

Draim took it upon himself to reinvigorate the club, focusing on “initiatives to kind of bring in people who were not already Republicans to the club, and give them an ability to learn more about what Republicans are really like, not the stereotypes that sometimes get perpetrated.”

He said, “We worked very, very hard to dispel that stigma by just being a fun place to be,” he said. “Our unofficial slogan was ‘the best party on campus’ because we would bring people together to just have a good time.”

A contributing columnist for the ‘Prince’ once described herself at one of such pregames as “trying to dodge fireballs in clamorous political discourse over Fireball.”

College Republicans started downsizing again in 2016 with the election of Donald Trump. According to conservatives on campus at the time who spoke to the ‘Prince,’ the election created an environment in which students became less and less tolerant of Republicans, especially those who did not disavow Trump.

“Before Trump, people were kind of chill. You didn’t have this social witch hunt against right-wing people,” a former president of College Republicans who asked to remain anonymous said.

“After Trump’s election, things felt really hostile against right wing people … the social cost of being right wing on campus became exponentially higher, so that’s when [College Republicans] started dying.” Eventually, he said, “College Republicans essentially didn’t exist.”

“I was the mortician,” he explained, “preparing it for it’s funeral, and then it was saved by a guy who brought it back to life like Frankenstein: Adam Hoffman.’’

Hoffman did not respond to an interview request. But by all other accounts, College Republicans was more active when Hoffman became president than it is today.


While he would not share any programming already undertaken by the group, Stewart said he was open to canvassing trips in the future. But, when speaking about his goals, he said, “College Republicans is and really should be a place where people who dissent from the Democratic orthodoxy can really come together.”

Ryan Spaude ’16 served as the vice president of College Republicans for two years while an undergraduate. Now, he is a Democrat, and he let out a disappointed sigh when I told him that College Republicans is not, as a group, opposing Trump.

“At the end of the day,” he said in an interview with the ‘Prince,’ “It’s the campus wing of a political party that doesn’t believe in democracy.”

Julian Hartman-Sigall is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’

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