Last election season, Jeremy Jang, president of the College Republicans at UC Irvine, brought a high-profile guest to campus: Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a former Reagan speechwriter and one of the House Republican caucuses’ top foreign policy wonks. Rohrabacher fought in Afghanistan, with the mujahedin, against the Soviets in the early 1980s. He also surfs.
Jang was over the moon to have the nationally-recognized figure speak to the club. About a week later, he heard that the College Democrats would be co-sponsoring a rally with former President Bill Clinton.
“I was like, ‘I just got one-upped,’” he said right before a College Republican meeting.
Dispirited by dwindling numbers and electoral defeat, UCI’s College Republicans are beginning an all-out effort to increase the club’s numbers and visibility on campus.
Club leadership is optimistic that reaching out to traditionally conservative groups is enough to restore the club’s former glory — but others are less certain.
Jang said he thinks expanding the club will be “easy” and most of his plans are fairly standard. He plans on encouraging current members to attend Young Republican mixers; a shooting range day with the Republican mayor of Lake Forest; and, of course, boothing on Ring Road.
“I’ve never actually seen a College Republican booth since I’ve been here,” Jang said.
Jang is a self-described Tea Party Republican.
Unfazed by last November’s results, Jang, a third-year political science and criminology double major, rejects the “big tent” Republicanism championed by historical figures like President Richard Nixon and contemporary politicos like former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.
He doesn’t believe the Republican Party should water down their beliefs to expand its numbers. As a result, his outreach efforts on behalf of the club are largely being directed toward groups with a proven proclivity for Republicanism.
Although Jang hopes to see more of those like him in the CRs, the club is actually welcoming to a diverse range of political views. Former members and club leadership have displayed a strong moderate streak.
“I happen to be very pro-gay rights and pro-choice. They accepted me,” Nick Constantino, last year’s CR president, said.
And soon the CRs will be testing a new outreach method, one that might bring even more unique voices to meetings. They’re going after the Greeks.
Ivy Ridderbusch, a third-year political science major and the College Republicans’ Director of Recruitment, said the club has just begun to form strategies to recruit from within UCI’s fraternities and sororities.
“I have experienced a good balance of liberal and conservative members, but find that the outlet for conservative students to be somewhat limited,” Ridderbusch, who is also the president of the Delta Gamma sorority, said.
Out of fairness, Ridderbusch said she hopes to provide political liberals with information, too. To her, apathy is worse than disagreement.
With the idea of looking for potential CRs in the Greek system, Ridderbusch might be onto something. A recent study from the University of Iowa suggests that the Greek system is teeming with a disproportionately high number of conservatives.
The study found that the average fraternity brother or sorority sister came to college with more conservative political views than their peers. Even better news for the CRs: most of the Greeks left more politically conservative too.
Still, going to the right place might not be enough. Ridderbusch said that the club needs “a new image of the club to attract members,” something with which College Democrat President Jose Quintana, whose club draws about five times as many members as Jang’s, agreed.
Quintana said that the Republicans, nationally, are at risk of becoming a “regional party” that serves to do little more than obstruct progress in the country.
The GOP is “not very representative in terms of demography and the prevailing political mood” of the country, Quintana said.
And so the question remains: Will Jang’s rightward brand of Republicanism turn away potential members, or will the Greeks and others join the conversation at meetings from a more moderate perspective?
For the College Republicans, the only way to go is up. Last week’s meeting is proof.
Of the 22 desks in SSL 122, where the CRs meet every Wednesday at 7 p.m., 19 were empty.