The Coming California College Republicans Showdown
Eric Lendrum, Politics Contributor
Although the Republican Party may finally seem to be almost unified over President Trump’s victory, there still remain some smaller, more local factions where past divides are yet to work themselves out. Case in point: The California federation of the College Republicans (CCR). As part of the larger College Republican National Committee (CRNC), founded in 1892, CCR is primarily dedicated to spreading the Republican Party’s message of conservatism on college campuses, through activism, get-out-the-vote efforts, and hosting speakers, among other things.
For years, CCR’s statewide executive board has often been selected through a safely-guided process. Each member of the statewide board would meet with other CCR members across the state through various, multi-chapter gatherings, and interview – either formally or informally – potential successors. The board member would then eventually hand-pick their successor, and all of the chosen individuals would run as part of a larger “slate” of candidates that would often campaign under a particular title, such as “Advance CCR” or “Engage CCR.” This slate would then be ceremoniously “elected” by a roll call voice vote of “Aye” or “Nay,” at every annual CCR statewide convention (often held in April). The new slate would take over, and the process would then repeat itself.
This time, however - for the first time in many years - there are two slates battling it out for control of CCR for the next year. In quite a few ways, this looming contest seems to parallel the general election that just took place.
On the one side is the slate “Rebuild CCR.” It is headed by the president of the UC Irvine CR’s, Ariana Rowlands (who is running to be statewide chair), and currently has three other announced candidates. Rowlands has risen in national prominence for her close association with Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, and her subsequent provocative activism on the UCI campus - both of which have garnered her a massive social media following, including over 32,000 followers on Twitter. She has also steadily risen in the ranks as a journalist, co-founding a website with a focus on conservative millennials called Refined Right, and eventually being hired as a contributor by both Breitbart and Red Alert Politics. Her efforts earned her recognition by the Future Female Leaders of America, which named her among the top 15 young conservative activists in the country. Thus, she easily has the name recognition to boost her campaign. She is likely to receive several Trump-like comparisons of being a well-known, provocative outsider, but also may face the label of being a member of the alt-right, or some other form of “radical.”
On the other side is the slate “Thrive CCR.” This slate is run by Leesa Danzek (currently the only candidate on the slate), the former vice president of the USC CR’s, also running to be statewide chair. Danzek has extensive experience working with CCR, as regional vice chair for the Los Angeles region, as well as co-chair of the CCR statewide board. In addition, she has worked with the California Republican Party as a field representative, campaigning for a number of state-level races. Despite her list of accomplishments, she might struggle with gaining the kind of name recognition necessary for such a campaign.
The contrasts between the respective candidates for chairwoman could not be clearer. Rowlands has experience as president of the UCI chapter, but little else – thus, she runs the risk of being criticized as “inexperienced,” while also possibly using this as an advantage, like Trump, to paint herself as an outsider and a “new” kind of leader. Conversely, Danzek has a rather long list of experience in both CCR and the statewide GOP. While Danzek undoubtedly has the longer resume, this could also backfire - as it did with Hillary Clinton - into an attack for being a member of the “establishment.”
Both slates have also taken different approaches in garnering their endorsements. Currently, both slates are roughly even in the number of endorsements from CR chapters across the state. Rebuild’s endorsements include many of the largest and most active chapters in the state: UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, and Cal Poly SLO, among others. Rebuild even earned the endorsement of the USC CR’s - the chapter of their rival chair candidate. Conversely, Thrive has garnered the endorsements of several prominent California politicians, including: Congressman Steve Knight, Assembly Minority Whip Vince Fong, RNC members Shawn Steel and Harmeet Dhillon, and former chair of the California Log Cabin Republicans Charles Moran.
The rivalry between both slates has gotten rather tense in recent days. One such example includes a scandal that emerged when it was revealed that Danzek, on the Thrive website, had been falsely advertising herself as the former president of the USC chapter. In actuality, she never held this position and was simply the vice president (This was later corrected). The real former president of the USC CR’s, Jacob Ellenhorn, is currently running as a candidate with the Rebuild slate. Additionally, Rowlands released a video formally inviting Danzek to debate her; as of this article’s release, almost a month later, Danzek has still not yet responded to the invitation.
The Thrive slate does not have a stated platform - their website is but a single page, containing Danzek’s declaration of candidacy letter, and the two aforementioned endorsements of RNC members Steel and Dhillon. By contrast, the Rebuild website is rather extensive, including a full transcript of the CCR Constitution, biographies about each of the candidates, and a very lengthy platform. The platform includes promises of working with each individual chapter on a campus-by-campus basis, rather than instituting a broad, statewide standard; it also promises to set up stronger connections between individual chapters and local GOP central committees, and also wants to ensure that each chapter hosts one speaker per month.
With such a clear contrast in style and approach, as well as some of the aforementioned events in the last few weeks, it is clear that the coming battle for control of CCR in the 2017-2018 academic year will be quite a spectacle. Perhaps, like the civil war among the right - conservatives vs. moderates - this was a civil war in the making for many years, with President Trump’s victory as the final spark that lit the fuse. Come April, only time will tell how the rubble will be arranged when this powder keg goes off.
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