In a move that breaks away from the organization’s tradition of supporting Republican candidates on principle, the New Mexico Federation of College Republicans officially endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for the presidency, denouncing Donald Trump in the process.
On Monday, UNM College Republicans followed suit, stating in an official release, “We have never seen two presidential nominees with such high unfavorable ratings” before touting Johnson as “not just the third option, (but) the only option.”
NMFCR Chair Michael Aguilar, also a recent graduate of UNM, said the federation – which has a “history of Republican Libertarianism” – decided in May when current leadership was elected that local races would be the priority.
“We made it a point that we wouldn’t devote any time, resources or energy to the presidential race. Our concern would be down-race ballots,” he said, which include those running for Senate and the House of Representatives, among other local positions up for grabs.
That changed on Saturday morning, when Aguilar said he woke to a phone call with other members of the federation who said they were considering moving forward with officially endorsing Johnson for president.
Aguilar said he doubted the organization has ever endorsed a non-Republican candidate before.
A lengthy discussion followed that literal wake-up call among the federation’s leadership, in which Aguilar made clear to the group that, while he would not be against such a move, there could be repercussions.
“We decided to go ahead and pull the trigger,” he said.
The timing worked out well, as Johnson held a scheduled rally on campus at the SUB on Saturday afternoon, where Aguilar spoke on behalf of the federation.
The group’s endorsement was released immediately following the event, and some of the repercussions that Aguilar alluded to began to manifest themselves.
“The lines were drawn with that endorsement,” he said. “People that I’ve been friends with and worked with for a long time...they’re pissed, and I understand it, because I knew that was going to come.”
At least one other campus group has faced severe consequences after also endorsing Johnson for president. Early last month, Cornell Republicans posted on their Facebook page the group’s support for the Libertarian.
“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,” the post states before going on to say that Johnson provides “real solutions.”
Unlike the case in New Mexico, however, Cornell’s group acted alone. A few days after the official endorsement, The Cornell Daily Sun reported that the New York FCR denounced Cornell Republicans for its “unacceptable” decision, revoking its recognition of the student group.
As part of the latest developments in what has been widely viewed as one of the most tumultuous and bizarre election cycles in recent history, the group of national Republican leaders that were still treading a very fine line between supporting or dumping Trump have been crossing over to the latter following tapes released on Saturday.
In those recordings from 2005 between Trump and talk show host Billy Bush, Trump can be heard gloating about grabbing females’ genitals, suggesting that his prominence allows him to do so.
It was the tipping point for many well-known government leaders. In the days since, various Republicans – including Mitt Romney, John McCain and Gov. Susanna Martinez – have either rescinded their support for Trump or continued to pounce on him as an unqualified, unfit candidate for president.
It was also the final straw for an organization that didn’t want to focus on the race for the Oval Office in the first place, let alone make an official statement on it.
“If those tapes hadn’t come out, we probably wouldn’t have made the endorsement,” Aguilar said. “If we had a reason to do this that wasn’t Saturday morning, we would have done it a long time ago.”
UNM College Republicans Chairman Ryan Ansloan said the federation worked closely with the state’s chapter to ensure everyone was on the same page.
As it turns out – except for one member within UNM College Republicans who felt the group should refrain from endorsing anyone – there was unanimous agreement on the move.
“Literally everyone else that’s involved was in agreement that Donald Trump had gone beyond the pale,” Ansloan said, “and that Gary Johnson was the right way to move forward.”
Ansloan also said, despite the group endorsing a Libertarian candidate, UNM College Republicans has not wavered from its roots.
“There’s a lot of overlap, in my opinion, between Libertarian and conservative ideals,” Ansloan said, citing a respect for the Constitution and similar economics views. “Gary Johnson comes closest to meeting those requirements of anyone that’s going to be on all 50 ballots.”
When it comes to Johnson’s qualifications, Aguilar said he is a superior choice when stacked up against the competition.
“Quite honestly, the biggest thing is that he’s not Hillary Clinton and he’s not Donald Trump,” he said. “In my opinion, he has a very solid record as the (former) governor of New Mexico. I think his lack of bombastic behavior, his lack of disrespect for women, lack of disrespect for anything like Donald Trump or the childish behavior of Hillary Clinton is refreshing to see.”
Less than a month away from the election, while so much focus is placed on the presidential race, both Aguilar and Ansloan stressed the importance of not being apathetic and getting to the polls on Nov. 8 – if not to support Trump, Johnson or Clinton, then to make an impact on local races.
“It’s critical, and that’s what everyone in my position is afraid of,” Aguilar said.
That echoes a sentiment felt by many national Republican leaders that having Trump as the face of the party – if not in the White House for the next four years, then on TV sets and the front pages of newspapers as an increasingly polarizing figure – hurts conservatives, potentially blinding the public to what they traditionally stand for.
“The down-ballot races are really going to determine what direction this state takes, far more than anyone in the Oval Office,” Ansloan said. “I would encourage everyone to vote on Nov. 8 no matter how disenchanted they are with the political process at a national level.”
David Lynch is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.