Donald Trump has repeatedly flouted his Ivy League degree. “I went to the hardest school to get into,” he once said of his two years at Penn, where he transferred after two years at Fordham, earning a degree in economics. “The best school in the world, I guess you could say, the Wharton School of Finance. It’s like super genius stuff.”
Yet for today’s Penn conservatives, Trump’s surprising political ascendance has largely failed to impress: While other campus campaign groups, such as “Penn for Hillary” and “Penn for Bernie,” have attracted significant student support, “Penn for Trump” couldn’t even survive the primary season.
In September, then-Wharton freshman Patrick Lobo founded a Trump campus group (Penn for Trump) hoping to provide a platform for his peers to learn about the Republican’s policies. Lobo said that when students gave him time to explain his position, they were generally understanding and open.
But by January, Lobo’s club was dissolved, following Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims. He called Trump’s proposed policy “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” among a long string of positions that became increasingly difficult to defend. Meanwhile, a mock Penn for Trump Facebook page organized by liberal students continues to occasionally post, amassing more online support than Lobo’s group ever did; now, Penn for Trump.com redirects to Penn for Hillary’s website.
Republican and rising junior Eric Hoover said he’s “Never Trump,” citing the nominee’s unconvincing record as a conservative and comments about women, especially regarding his daughter Ivanka (also a Penn graduate). He objects to Trump’s willingness to kill the family members of terrorists and flip-flopping on abortion. Yet Hoover distinguishes his criticisms from his liberal-leaning peers who might object to the candidate’s irreverence for political correctness. “That’s the wrong reason,” he said.
Among conservatives, student support was generally divided between John Kasich, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. For the Republican primary, the school paper endorsed John Kasich, who also won a student-run caucus simulation. While Trump won Philadelphia’s Republican primary on April 26 in a landslide, the city’s 27th ward, where Penn is located, counted 216 votes for John Kasich, 93 for Cruz, and 86 for Trump, after many students’ first-choices had already dropped out.
Christian Petrillo is one of the few Trump supporters on Penn’s campus. Though he originally preferred Rand Paul, he ultimately voted for Trump. Hailing from a blue-collar community and having lived in Europe, Petrillo said “this right-wing populism message is nothing new to me.” At Penn, however, Petrillo said he believes students largely steer clear from Trump, for fear of being labeled a misogynist, bigot, or racist. “At Penn, Trump’s message doesn’t resonate that much,” he added. “His message is anti-elite and anti-establishment. Penn is by definition the elite and the establishment.”
Adam Sherman, who identifies as a “Never Trump” Republican and writes for the campus conservative magazine, The Statesman, said he dislikes Trump’s opposition to trade deals, as well as his unclear policies, “divisive” rhetoric, and lack of presidential decorum. “People should handle themselves in a certain manner when they’re running for the president,” he said. It’s the highest office in the country. People should treat it accordingly.”
Looking towards the general election, Sherman’s not sure what campus Republicans are going to do. They are left with the uncomfortable choice between uniting behind Trump, reluctantly voting for Hillary, finding refuge in a third party candidate, or simply sitting out. Penn, meanwhile, touts Trump as the “best known brand name in real estate.”
Related: Trump Watch [Tablet series]