Students at Virginia’s Liberty University have issued a statement against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as young conservatives at some colleges across the country reconsider support for his campaign.
A statement issued late Wednesday by the group Liberty United Against Trump strongly rebuked the candidate as well as the school’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for defending Trump after he made vulgar comments about women in a 2005 video.
“Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him,” the statement said. “… He has made his name by maligning others and bragging about his sins. Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate for president, he is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose.”
Many campus Republican groups have not endorsed their party’s nominee.
Nationally, Trump seems to have less support from younger Republicans. Less than two-thirds of Republican-leaning voters younger than 30 support Trump, while more than three-quarters of 30-to-64-year-olds and 85 percent of seniors do, in an average of September Washington Post-ABC national polls. They were also less likely to support Trump in the Republican primaries and caucuses earlier this year.
And younger Republicans were more likely to say Trump is biased against women and minorities, according to Post-ABC polling in August and early September: In combined surveys, 44 percent of Republican-leaning adults younger than 30 said Trump was biased against women and minorities, compared with a quarter of those age 30 to 64 and one-fifth of those 65 and older.
Some students maintain there is more support on campuses than people realize, because many colleges are so liberal-leaning and politically correct that Trump supporters choose to remain silent about their views. They point to stealth campaigning, such as the “chalkenings” that have happened at some schools with students waking to find Trump slogans written in chalk all over campus.
But recent revelations about the candidate, including the release of a 2005 video in which he is heard talking about groping women, have made this a turning point for even some of his ardent supporters and intensified debate about the candidate on many campuses.
That conflict is crystallized at Liberty. The Lynchburg school was founded by evangelical pastor Jerry Falwell Sr., whose sermons gave rise to a prominent conservative political movement, Moral Majority. The small college Falwell created in 1971 has become an epicenter of evangelical Christian education in the United States and one of the largest universities by enrollment in the country, based in large part on soaring online participation.
The campus also has become a regular stop for politicians on the campaign trail. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) began his run for the presidency at Liberty. Trump gave a convocation address in front of the student body in January. A week afterward, Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump. In the months since, Falwell has vigorously defended his decision to support the Republican candidate.
“Jesus said ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.'” Falwell wrote in an essay for The Washington Post this year. “Let’s stop trying to choose the political leaders who we believe are the most godly because, in reality, only God knows people’s hearts. You and I don’t, and we are all sinners.”
The students at Liberty University wrote that they felt compelled to speak out in light of Falwell’s steadfast support for Trump even after the candidate’s comments about women and sexual assault.
“Because our president has led the world to believe that Liberty University supports Donald Trump, we students must take it upon ourselves to make clear that Donald Trump is absolutely opposed to what we believe, and does not have our support,” the Liberty students wrote. “We are not proclaiming our opposition to Donald Trump out of bitterness, but out of a desire to regain the integrity of our school.”
A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Falwell quickly criticized the student effort against Trump.
“I am proud of these few students for speaking their minds but I’m afraid the statement is incoherent and false,” Falwell said in a statement. “I am not ‘touring the country’ or associating Liberty University with any candidate. I am only fulfilling my obligation as a citizen to ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ by expressing my personal opinion about who I believe is best suited to lead our nation in a time of crisis. This student statement seems to ignore the teachings of Jesus not to judge others but they are young and still learning.”
In another statement Thursday, Falwell questioned the support for the group. “The group of students now speaking out against Trump represents a very small percentage of the Liberty student body of 15,000 resident students and 90,000 online students. The group (led by a never Trump activist, I am told) claims to have between 200 and 1200 signatures on a petition but admits that many of these signatories are not Liberty students.”
Dustin Wahl, a junior at Liberty, told The Post that he wrote the Liberty United Against Trump statement and said that about 1,300 students, alumni and faculty have left signatures of support. “Since the most recent sexual assault thing, we realized this is a time we can all get behind this and say ‘Enough is enough.’ We do not support our president in his endorsement of Trump and we want the world to know because he’s giving Liberty University a bad name,” Wahl said. ” . . . This is an effort to say Liberty is not Trump university.”
During the Republican primary, Trump won about 8 percent of the vote in Liberty’s voting precinct, while Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) won 44 percent and Cruz won 33 percent.
Wahl said he attended the convocation on campus Wednesday, which included an appearance by Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Wahl said few students clapped when Pence spoke of Trump. “It was pretty pitiful,” he said. “People associate our degree with the worst presidential candidate in modern history.”
David Campbell, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame, said the nation is seeing “mounting evidence for a generational divide within evangelicalism” over the campaign. “Pastors who either are overtly supporting Trump or . . . continue to mix partisan politics should worry about driving young evangelicals away from their church.”
Younger evangelicals tend to lean more to the left politically than their parents, according to a survey of religious groups from the Pew Research Center.
Many campus Republican groups have struggled with the choice. On Saturday, Alex Smith, national chairman of the College Republican National Committee, posted on Twitter: “The Party of Lincoln is not a locker room, and there is no place for people who think it is. Definitely not with her, but not with him.”
Smith is not granting interviews at this time, according to a spokesman for the group. The spokesman did not respond to a question about how many chapters have endorsed Trump.
The New Mexico Federation of College Republicans announced Saturday that they “will not and cannot support Donald Trump.” The group endorsed Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.
The Harvard Republican Club took a strong stand in August. “For the first time in 128 years, we, the oldest College Republicans chapter in the nation, will not be endorsing the Republican nominee,” the club said in a statement. “Donald Trump holds views that are antithetical to our values not only as Republicans, but as Americans.”
The club had been planning to vote on an endorsement when its members were back on campus for the academic year, said its president, Declan Garvey, but a series of events over the summer intensified concern and a survey was sent to members. Only 10 percent supported Trump, he said, and 80 percent were opposed.
In recent days, he said some of the revelations about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton disgusted members of the group. Then the video came out. “There was some attrition back to Trump,” Garvey said, but the video “stopped that.”
The Yale College Republicans wrote of the divides within their group, but in a statement leaders warned of a Clinton victory and wrote in part: “While not every member of our organization supported Trump in the primary, as an organization and branch of the GOP we support Republicans up and down the ballot. And yes, that includes supporting Donald Trump for president.”
After that decision, some members of the group left to form their own organization. Leaders of the group declined to comment Thursday.
At Princeton, the College Republicans stayed on the sidelines with a statement in August promoting Republican principles but “not taking a definitive position on Donald Trump’s candidacy.” Leaders of the group did not respond immediately to requests for comment Thursday.
The Cornell University College Republicans endorsed the Libertarian ticket. In a public statement, they wrote, in part: “This election’s unprecedented nature has made blind commitment to our Party unpalatable. The Cornell Republicans cannot, in good faith, endorse our party’s nominee. Mr. Trump should not be the face of American conservatism. Instead, we are proud to endorse the true conservative in this election: Gary Johnson.”
At Washington University in St. Louis, site of the most recent presidential debate, the College Republicans did not endorse Trump. In an op-ed published in Student Life, an independent newspaper, they wrote, “We should note that even the unfamiliar sight of a College Republicans chapter not endorsing their nominee is not uncommon in this election cycle. A myriad of Republicans this year have decided not to endorse Trump either. Many Republicans have realized that we need a candidate who will follow the guidance of and adhere to the United States constitution, and not a nominee who speaks of his presidency as a ‘reign.’”
In Virginia, while some students support Trump, others have recently withdrawn support after the video, said Rachel Moss, a junior who is a member of the James Madison University College Republicans and serves as communication director for the College Republican Federation of Virginia. Since many chapters have not publicly endorsed Trump, Moss said that the federation is encouraging college students to focus on congressional races.
On Tuesday, the University of Virginia College Republicans voted to rescind the group’s Trump endorsement. “We do not feel Donald Trump accurately represents the way we view and conduct ourselves,” the group’s executive board wrote in a statement.
At Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., the College Republicans did not officially endorse Trump because the group “exists for the betterment of the Republican Party as a whole, not select Republican candidates,” said Caroline Bones, chair of the club. Bones noted that “like the larger Republican Party, there is room for disagreements within our membership. We fully recognize that not every Republican supports Mr. Trump. ”
At Virginia Tech, the College Republicans did not formally endorse Trump but wrote in a statement to The Post that as a “partisan, Republican organization, our organization does support the Republican nominee for President.”
Virginia Commonwealth University’s College Republicans chapter recently voted once again to “unanimously and emphatically” endorse Trump. John Rackoski, vice president of communication for the group, said that they are “obviously disgusted” by what Trump said on the tape but that it “is no worse than the language we hear used in public on campus on a daily basis, from both men and women. … A firestorm has erupted over Trump’s dirty jokes told in private to other men over 11 years ago, which hurt no one.”
The students at Liberty University ended their statement by noting that “while everyone is a sinner and everyone can be forgiven, a man who constantly and proudly speaks evil does not deserve our support for the nation’s highest office.”
The statement concluded: “We want the world to know how many students oppose him. We don’t want to champion Donald Trump; we want only to be champions for Christ.”
This story has been updated.