That indecision led a chunk of frustrated members to join Ohio State Students for Trump, a chapter started earlier that spring by Nick Davis, a junior studying natural-resource management. Davis, who believes Trump has “energized the people in America who aren’t typically into government,” said he started Students for Trump because no one else on campus was doing anything.
In late September 2016, Davis’s club and the depleted College Republicans attempted a show of unity. They rented a room in the Ohio Union and co-hosted a presidential debate-watching party. The room was full of students on both ends of the Trump spectrum, who were eager to watch the first face-off between Trump and Hillary Clinton. Things quickly got rowdy. While most people were quietly listening to both candidates, a handful of passionate Trump fans in the front of the room were treating the debate, as Frankowski put it, more like a “high-stakes sporting event.” For a full 90 minutes, they booed when Clinton answered a question, and cheered heartily when Trump did. Occasionally, they chanted, “Lock her up!”
It was a clash of personalities, Frankowski told me. “There wasn’t really anyone in charge,” he said. “We tried politely asking [the Trump supporters] to settle down. Most of those [requests] were rebuffed.”
Instead of unifying the two groups, the debate-watch extinguished what remained of their rapport; they never collaborated again. For the next two months, just like at Penn State, the Students for Trump did all the legwork for Trump, while the College Republicans remained passive, campaigning only for local city council and judicial races. “Most everyone thought [Trump] was going to lose, and we would all kind of move on from there,” Frankowski said. But instead, Trump became president, and by the end of the school year, the College Republicans were down to 18 members.
To Frankowski, some of the fervor surrounding Trump—the graphic t-shirts showing Trump tossing Clinton off a motorcycle, the chanting, the red MAGA hats—represents the trivialization of American politics. “When I first got into politics I always thought it was this noble thing,” he said. “I guess maybe I’ve just gotten jaded as I’ve gotten older…” He still hopes Trump is an anomaly. “I honestly think the Trumpian strategy only works for Donald Trump,” he told me.
In 2017, the College Republicans focused on bringing speakers to campus, networking, and preparing for the 2018 gubernatorial and Senate elections. “We’re really focusing on things that bring us together, just disregarding the stuff that’s more divisive,” Frankowski said. In early fall, the group went bowling. In December, they went to the zoo.
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Earlier in the fall semester, Nick Frankowski and Nick Davis, leaders of the rival Republican groups at Ohio State, had a sit-down. It was awkward, but it had to be done. “We just said you know, the election’s over, we don’t want to be at each other’s throats anymore. Kind of let bygones be bygones, and move forward with the Republican agenda,” Frankowski told me, adding that the hard feelings between the groups were mostly gone.