Prior to last year, the Yale College Republicans’ campus presence was limited to posting links to conservative news articles on Facebook and participating in the annual game of Partisan Pong against the Yale College Democrats. In the fall of 2012, however, a group of students decided to change that. An organization of around 30 to 40 students was put together to support Republican Linda McMahon’s failed campaign for the U.S. Senate. This number paled in comparison to the more than 150 members of the Dems, but still represented a significant shift from the practically nonexistent activism of years past.
The Paul Chandler campaign for Ward 1 alderman was the first big project of the revitalized YCR. Chandler’s candidacy was announced in April, far before Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson announced her bid for re-election. The Chandler campaign immediately took off on social media and was even picked up by USA Today over the summer. Unlikely as it seemed, a Republican candidacy was being taken seriously in a ward where 82 percent of students voted democrat in 2012.
I voted for Sarah Eidelson yesterday, and I find it hard to imagine that I will ever vote for a Republican candidate. Still, I understand the value in having a contested race and forcing an incumbent to prove herself worthy of an additional term of office.
The YCR fielding a candidate could have allowed students to have conversations about national partisan issues in the context of the city of New Haven. Instead, the YCR chose to run a very disappointing campaign.
Chandler’s campaign focused much of its energy on going negative, even plastering the campus with signs attacking Eidelson. False information was circulated, including claims that Eidelson did not actually live in New Haven and that she did not speak at board of aldermen meetings. The campaign also relied heavily on use of anti-union rhetoric, telling voters that Eidelson’s affiliation with Locals 34 and 35 was enough to justify voting for Chandler.
Whenever I spoke to my peers involved in the Chandler campaign, I was given the same rap about why Eidelson was a horrible, union-backed alderwoman. My questions about Chandler’s policies were generally answered with, “Let me get back to you on that one” or vague statements like “fiscal responsibility” and “supporting public education.” The only specific Chandler policy that most students picked up was his proposal to build a crosswalk from Phelps Gate to the New Haven Green, an idea that was promptly ridiculed. Unable to outline a specific platform, the campaign relied on attacking Eidelson instead.
Even more disturbing were the purposeful misconstructions of information that were posted on the campaign website and social media. On Oct. 8, the campaign website falsely claimed that U.S. Senator Rob Portman had endorsed Chandler. This post was removed once it was discovered that Portman had simply taken a photo with Chandler and offered support.
On Monday, the campaign released a statement entitled, “YDN Withdraws Endorsement from Sarah Eidelson” in response to the News’ decision not to endorse a candidate in Ward 1. The statement implied that the editorial board had endorsed Eidelson in the election and then reversed their decision. The reality was that two years ago an entirely different editorial board endorsed Eidelson over Vinay Nayak. These two endorsements were in no way connected.
The Chandler post went on to quote the editorial, but cut out every criticism of Chandler and praise of Eidelson. To blatantly misrepresent the editorial was a breach of basic campaign honesty. Perhaps the campaign thought that students would not read the editorial for themselves and see the campaign’s inappropriate spin.
Some amount of spin is to be expected of news coming from any political campaign, including Eidelson’s — but the Chandler campaign went much too far.
The Chandler campaign may have felt that it could not stand a chance in an honest race. That probably is the case. Even with the continuous stream of questionable campaign strategies, Chandler lost to Eidelson by 228 votes.
If the YCR wants to be viewed as a legitimate organization, it needs to start acting in more legitimate ways. Future candidates should run on solid platforms based on specific policy proposals, not scare tactics. They should also refrain from distributing factually inaccurate material, especially when it pertains to the work of their fellow students.
The existence of a Republican group on Yale’s campus is important for a variety of reasons. It provides a space for students who identify as Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic setting. It can also be the stepping-stone for important discussions between groups of different ideologies.
However, many of the YCR’s actions in the Chandler campaign were unproductive in terms of furthering campus political discourse. In the future, the organization must learn to operate in a more honest and respectful manner.