Earlier this month, UW Students for Trump held a rally in Red Square. This was the very same locale where the organization, then called “Huskies 4 Trump,” had held its inaugural rally, a “chance for dialogue” with the promise of Doritos and generic-brand soda. This first rally drew, in the words of founder and president Chevy Swanson, “two people and a lot of protesters.”
But the increasing seriousness of Trump’s campaign has granted some splash legitimacy to UW Students for Trump’s events. This month’s rally attracted “about 10 Donald Trump supporters,” according to Swanson, who computed: “There were more protesters again, but the ratio was far better as they may have doubled the number of protesters, we have grown to five-plus times the number of Trump supporters.” Two times five is 10. So much for fuzzy math!
But, really, the numbers are beside the point. What mattered was the sharp increase in the number of people who read about the rally. Stupendously, the event was covered by Business Insider, MyNorthwest, The Seattle Times, and Ann Coulter. Why would all these major outlets care about a 10-man clambake, smaller and tamer than a NASCAR party on a suburban subdivision?
In a phrase: the Wall. Each publication’s main focus was the rally’s controversial centerpiece: a “Trump wall”—the proposed Mexican barricade in miniature. This wall, about 8 feet tall and spray-painted with bricks and a semi-legible “TRUMP” tag on one side, was bare on the other, revealing its building materials of plywood and wooden beams. When I asked several people affiliated with the rally what the wall was for, they first cited policy.
Jessie Gamble, President of the UW College Republicans: “The point was to bring up the most well-known policy idea of Trump’s campaign: the wall intended to curtail illegal immigration.”
James Allsup, National Senior Advisor for Students for Trump and President of the WSU College Republicans: “The message was that we need to have a strong immigration policy and enforce the law.”
Cyrus Monroe, Vice President of UW Students for Trump: “The message we are sending here is that illegal immigration is still illegal.” When you put it that way …
But the organizers kinda sorta admitted the wall was mostly a good way to get attention. McCormick said: “The UW Students for Trump committee conferred that the action of erecting of a wall on campus would be the optimal way to draw a crowd.”
Gamble said: “We invited a few sources that had already covered past Trump events, like the Seattle Weekly, because we were lucky that they covered previous events and could develop a story out of the rallies.”
Monroe was less modest: “We wanted national media coverage.”
Allsup demurred: “The reason people demonstrate is for exposure, media or otherwise.”
But wasn’t the point to garner more support for Trump’s immigration policy?
Swanson: “As for converts … it simply isn’t reasonable to expect anyone to leave that event supporting a new candidate.”
The rally’s organizers, having accomplished their goal of attracting protestors, deplored the actual protest. Allsup griped: “Many [students] were, in my opinion, using fascist tactics to try to shut down our right to free speech.”
Gamble groused: “One student started chanting ‘Trump is a Nazi’ and, honestly, that really captures the tolerance conservative principles are given on campus.”
Swanson elaborated: “Someone brought an electric guitar with the goal of making it too loud for us to speak, others putting up banners to physically block the wall, and the crowd as a whole would get louder when we tried to answer the questions they asked.”
But, really, would a civil discussion have fit with the overall Trump strategy? A telling announcement on the UW College Republicans Facebook page read, “Congratulations to all those involved, particularly CRPEC Chevy Swanson! The Wall was a catalyst to wind leftists up and have them implode, showing the world all on their own how toxic their brand of ‘tolerance’ is becoming. More and more national sources and state commentators are applauding Trump supporters as the mature and rational ones in Monday’s events.”
“Mature and rational” suggests the organizers, despite their contradictory claims of promoting a dialogue and provoking a response, and not wanting people to protest them but wanting to draw a crowd, knew exactly what they were doing.
By yet another contradiction—courting the media’s attention, then complaining about the media’s negativity—UW Students for Trump distilled the essence of the presumptive nominee’s candidacy. On one hand, Trump supporters are relentlessly besieged: “To have 10 courageous students face an opposition of 50+ who are unwilling to understand our point of view is I believe worthy of recognition,” said Monroe. On the other, everyone agrees with them: “Thousands of people have seen our event, thanks to The Seattle Times, Q13, Reddit, and other sources,” said Allsup, “and judging by the comments on those sites, most agree with our message.”
Trump 2016: the Internet comment section of candidacies?
One point UW Students for Trump could agree on: making it into Business Insider, the Times, and, sure, Seattle Weekly, was a triumph. “The Trump rally this past Monday was in every respect larger and more productive,” said Monroe. “The group has definitely transformed in terms of political seriousness.”
What does the future hold?
“I think that these flashy events are causing our campus group to grow far faster than one would expect a UW Trump club to grow,” said Swanson. He continued: “Each event brings protesters, but they also show other supporters on campus that they aren’t alone and that you don’t have to worry about being a public Trump supporter.”
Monroe, who wanted national media attention, said: “Presently we are contemplating new ways to spread our message and find non-confrontational ways to educate protesters of our stances.” He added: “In the face of adversity we as Republicans will never allow our right to free speech be silenced.”
It must be a hard life when you want people to pay attention to you but not to what you’re saying.