ATLANTA – A state group of campus Republicans, in a divisive move, is excusing its chapters from campaigning for the party's controversial presidential nominee.
The Georgia Association of College Republicans’ decision to not tout Donald Trump – and to allow its chapters to do the same – is the latest fallout from the release of an 11-year-old video that captured Trump making sexually explicit comments about women.
Other groups of College Republicans - most notably at Harvard University, where the country’s oldest chapter can be found - have already done the same. Many stepped away from Trump before the recording surfaced.
In Georgia, the state association released a statement this week that said “recent events have polarized our organization and challenged us in our efforts to promote an inclusive and value-driven party.”
The decision sparked outrage on social media and has revealed a deep division among college conservatives just three weeks before the election.
Some chapters, like the one at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, quickly issued their own statements supporting the nominee.
College Republicans at the University of West Georgia blamed the media for Trump’s recent controversies and rallied behind the candidate.
In a statement, its members said they may not agree with Trump’s comments, but they believe “a Clinton presidency will be far worse than the words Mister Trump has exchanged in the past.”
Even leaders of the statewide organization were split. The group leaders were locked in a tie over whether to take a position on the candidate, leaving the three state officers present for a conference call to make the decision.
The statement lists several of Trump’s provocative comments but notes that he is still preferable to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“In short, Trump’s candidacy is divisive, especially to millennial voters,” the statement reads.
Wesley Ross, the state group's treasurer, voted against the move. He said he doesn’t believe it was necessary for the association to come out and take a position.
Even so, the Dalton State College student said he was at least pleased that the statement he co-wrote took a neutral stance, unlike the original version that he said outright “slammed” Trump.
“We’re just saying, if they don’t want to actively campaign for Donald Trump, they don’t have to,” he said.
Ross said some chapters were concerned that supporting Trump would hurt their ability to recruit and retain members.
One of those chapters, at Mercer University in Macon, plans to take advantage of the leeway, said Chairman Austin Paul.
Paul said he believes the decision will be best for the chapter and for the party in the long run.
“I don’t believe the current nominee of the Republican Party represents or shares my values, one, as a millennial and, two, as a Republican in general,” Paul said Tuesday.
The chapter will not campaign for Trump, he said. Rather, it will focus on other races, such as U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s effort to keep his seat. The state group said in its statement that it would also focus its energies down-ballot.
Even in conservative northwest Georgia, where Trump easily swept counties in the Republican primary, campaigning on campus can prove contentious, said Jacob Ledford, who chairs the Dalton State chapter.
Dalton State’s group, he said, will not campaign as an organization for Trump. He noted that several members enthusiastically support the nominee, and they’re free to campaign on their own.
He said he’d rather pass on arguing over Trump.
“It’s not the best way to recruit, and it’s not the best use of our time,” he said.
Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.