Campus conservatives navigate post-Trump republicanism

By Valeria Escobar
Dallas, TX

With camo cargo shorts and a blue crew-neck shirt commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg, Matthew Penza, a rising junior at Princeton, stood in front of the classroom in a power stance. He first seriously contemplated conservative ideology when he studied great thinkers of the Enlightenment such John Locke, Voltaire, and Montesquieu. But Penza would later dismiss their arguments from his political philosophy. “I am a monarchist,” he told the Princeton Summer Journal. “I am an uppercase ‘R’ Republican. I do not believe in the idea of a republic.”

There is a lot of diversity in Princeton’s conservative campus minority, and not all of their views are ideologically compatible.

Through the narrow lens of a FaceTime camera, Jacob Berman, a rising sophomore, sat in a white-walled room. “Princeton is definitely a liberal campus,” he said. “It is commonly said, ‘Republicans think Democrats are wrong and Democrats think Republicans are evil.'”

When asked about his stance on Donald Trump, Berman expressed disapproval from a capitalist perspective, arguing that Trump was anti-free trade. He was not eligible to vote at the time of the election, he says, and wouldn’t say if he would have voted for Trump if granted the opportunity.  

As a politically active conservative, Berman says it’s his responsibility to “identify what works in order to improve our society.” Shaped by his community, Berman advocates the success of a free market and minimal government interference to promote the wellbeing of democracy. This responsibility, however, does not extend to the personal lives of others, as he identifies as “socially libertarian.”

Berman added that believes that conservatism is open to all types of identities, but the constant demonization of the party on behalf of liberal identity politics discourages minorities from becoming Republicans.

Yet even Berman and Penza have widely differing opinions. Penza, the monarchist, is a traditional social conservative; Berman, on the other hand, identifies as a social libertarian.

And while Berman discussed the dinners College Republicans hosted with the likes of Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum, Penza critiqued them for their lack of impact on the campus political dialogue.

“They could meet for once,” he said.

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