Although a year remains until the 2012 presidential election, many conservative Yalies have already chosen their favorite GOP candidates.
Although the GOP field is far from settled, with the latest polls showing former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain leaping to the front of the pack, the majority of right-leaning Yalies who spoke with the News said they supported either Jon Huntsman or Mitt Romney, both former governors, and are optimistic about the Republican Party’s chances to reclaim the presidency.
“When we’re looking at the bigger picture, when you look at what states the President has to win to be reelected, it seems there is just an enormous amount of momentum pushing the Republicans towards the White House,” said Michael Knowles ’12, chairman of the Yale College Republicans.
Knowles spent most of last year leading a student group that tried to recruit Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to enter the race. After Daniels announced in May that he would not be running for President, Knowles received a call from former Utah Gov. Huntsman’s senior advisor, met with the candidate, and eventually became a national co-chair for Huntsman’s youth campaign.
Huntsman currently lags behind the Republican pack in the polls, with the latest Real Clear Politics poll showing him tied for last nationally with former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum. The same poll shows former Mass. Gov. Romney and Cain in a virtual tie, with 23.9 percent and 23.4 percent, respectively, of the national vote.
West Cuthbert ’14, a member of the Yale College Republicans, said he is disappointed that Daniels and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie decided not to enter the race, but he believes the GOP primary field remains strong. He added that Huntsman and Romney — who both claim executive experience as former governors and “strong conservative track records” — are his two favorites.
Most conservative students interviewed by the News expressed the same sentiment — summed up by Yang Li ’12, who wrote that although he has not fully decided on a candidate, he is “leaning Romney” with “some interest” in Huntsman.
Still, some Yale conservatives said they supported other candidates. Elizabeth Henry ’14, who is Yale’s director of campus operations for Students for Rick Perry, said that Romney is a “flip-flopper” and that Huntsman is “for people who think there’s something wrong with the Republican party.”
While some have taken the volatility of Republican primary polls as a reflection of a weak field, Yale Political Union President Jonathan Yang ’13 said that may not be a valid inference.
“Whenever we have an election we have people proposing solutions, and the reason we’re cycling through them is that the platforms are less all-inclusive than in the past,” Yang said. “All the candidates that have a quality that appeals to people also have a quality that makes people pause.”
Yang added that trends seen in students at Yale — discontent with Obama’s performance and uncertainty about the shifting GOP field — are reflective of the Republican electorate as a whole.
This sentiment was echoed by Christopher Pagliarella ’12, a former YPU president, who said that different candidates’ “rise and fall” are due to an “optimistic Republican electorate” that eventually finds each successive candidate “uninformed, insufficiently conservative, or both.” Pagliarella said he thinks the current Republican field contains few candidates prepared to handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief.
Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13, president of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale, meanwhile, said he thinks that the primary focuses too much on policy and not enough on candidates’ broader visions. Zelinsky said only Huntsman has offered a glimpse of his philosophy of government during one of the Republican debates. Some Republicans, Zelinksy added, are “riding a wave of anti-intellectualism” characterized by Christine O’Donnell’s “I didn’t go to Yale” advertisements in last year’s midterm elections.
The majority of students interviewed agreed with Democrat Avi Arfin’s ’14 assertion that this election is “the Republicans’ to lose,” much as the 2008 election was viewed as a clincher for Democrats given then-President Bush’s unpopularity. Yang said that the election might not be about the “challenger winning” but instead the “incumbent losing,” adding that he is skeptical of Obama’s chances.
The Iowa caususes, traditionally the first stop during the primary season, are scheduled for Jan. 3. The New Hampshire primaries may take place as early as Dec. 6.