“You’re all brave for coming out here,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel jokingly told a small, but packed, hall of mostly students at Michigan State University on Wednesday night. “I know you’re not the most popular kids on campus, being Republicans,” she added. “I see you with your Keep America Great hat! That’s awesome.”
It was the Michigan debut of the RNC’s “Make Campus Great Again” tour, according to a spokesperson. The tour is making hundreds of stops in battleground states since starting up in the fall of 2019. And in a critical state like Michigan, where President Donald Trump won in 2016 by just over 10,000 votes, both sides are trying to make inroads anywhere they can.
For Republicans, that means rallying and organizing the conservative minority on college campuses: students who say they feel like their views aren’t welcome, and even make them targets, in a more liberal climate.
“I’ve been called every name in the book,” says Mark Klein, an economics major at MSU.
“I always have to watch myself, every time I’m in a classroom,” says Bri Saroli, a sophomore from Hortonville who writes for a conservative campus blog. “It’s almost, sometimes, it’s not worth it. Because my grade would probably go down. It has before in the past.”
And Wednesday night’s event, co-sponsored by MSU’s College Republicans club, isn’t just about getting a few more voters registered as they file into the event, past the table with free Trump beer cozies and reusable red solo cups emblazoned with the "Keep America Great" logo (although the RNC says it has “nearly doubled expected voter registration numbers for the Fall 2019 program.”)
It’s also about showing students like Saroli and Klein that the GOP recognizes them and their generation as crucial voters to attract: Gen Z, Millenial, and Gen X voters “outvoted older generations in 2018 midterms,” according to the Pew Research Center.
It’s not just the RNC, either. National conservative groups are pouring millions of dollars into the battle for the college vote. Turning Point USA says it has hundreds of chapters at colleges around the country (including one at MSU, which Klein helps run) and claims to be “active on over 1,500 campuses.”
“We’re going to fight for every vote,” McDaniel said Wednesday night, urging students to have the “tough” conversations with friends who disagree with them. “And we want to get on college campuses. Because you should be involved.”