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These young conservatives are worried Trump is ruining Republicanism for a generation

Donald Trump skipped this year's CPAC conference.
Donald Trump skipped this year's CPAC conference.
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — For the University of Cincinnati’s College Republicans, Donald Trump is very bad for the future of the party.

The young conservatives say they already faced an uphill battle in trying to convince a mostly liberal campus that their views are not motivated by racism or homophobia. "People will say, ‘You’re a bigot,’ even when I didn’t even mention anything about race," says Cameron Uptmor, 21, a member of the organization.

Trump’s rise has made this problem much more difficult to overcome. Many members of the organization think Trump is "racially intolerant," but that doesn’t stop the liberals on campus from connecting the College Republicans to the views of the party’s presidential frontrunner, Uptmor said.

On Friday, we interviewed more than 20 voters at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest annual meeting of conservatives in the country.

A sharp split quickly emerged in our conversations. Most people we spoke to under 30 said they would not vote for Trump, even if he’s the Republican nominee. By contrast, essentially every person over 30 said that he or she would rally behind Trump if the alternative were another Democrat in the White House.

The age split is probably more pronounced at CPAC than it is among conservatives across the country. In February, citing research by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Inside Higher Ed reported that age "is not a statistically significant predictor of Trump support."

Still, other polling data has found that Trump may face a problem attracting youth voters. A Wall Street Journal poll from December 2015 found only 19 percent of voters ages 18 to 34 had positive views about Trump, compared with more than 30 percent of voters over 50.

Some young conservatives at CPAC disapproved of Donald Trump's proposed ban on Muslims

Young conservatives at CPAC repeatedly listed Trump's proposed Muslim ban as a key reason to oppose his candidacy. Only 16 percent of those ages 18 to 34 support Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the US — roughly half the support for the plan is among those over 50, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"We came of age at a time that’s looking at all races as being the same," says CPAC attendee Sam Colleran, 20, of Miami University in Ohio, "whereas Trump looks at Muslims and says: ‘They’re all dangerous.’ But it’s ridiculous to say to a Muslim from Indonesia: ‘You’re Muslim, so you can’t come.’ That’s just nonsensical to our generation."

There's some evidence for Colleran's views. About 75 percent of voters ages 18 to 34 say they have positive views of Muslims, according to the Wall Street Journal poll. By contrast, only 51 percent of people over 65 have positive views of Muslims.

Colleran said he supports Rubio and would under no circumstances support Trump. "It’s important that we have rhetoric that doesn’t hurt our ability to reach minorities," Colleran said.

Other college students at CPAC said they also worried about the impact of what they called Trump's "bigoted" remarks on the party.

"I understand the anger and people’s sentiments, but at the same time, I feel like the way to address it is not by making bigoted statements," said Claire Hughes, a sophomore at Hillsdale College in Michigan.

Young CPAC attendees worry about Trump's impact on the future of the Republican Party

Priscilla Solis, a first-year student at Salem College in North Carolina, said she has been appalled by Trump's rhetoric about Mexican immigrants.

"What he’s saying is completely biased and rude and untrue. There are a lot of legal immigration issues, and I understand that," she said. "But we need to work on reform, and not blame people."

Some young conservatives did say they opposed Trump for other reasons, like what they said was his inadequate commitment to small-government principles.

"It used to be that the Republican Party was about limiting government, and the Constitution, and about protecting the Bill of Rights," said Matthew La Corte, 23, a research associate at the Niskanen Center. "But half the party is following Donald Trump, who is saying, 'I don’t care about the Constitution. I’m going to do what’s best. I’m going to make all the decisions for the economy.'"

But La Corte, like other young CPAC attendees, stressed that voters under a certain age would not be accepting of Trump's position on immigration.

"I think Trump represents a lot of things that go against the millennial attitude. We are a very open, diverse, group of people. And trying to deport 11 million people, trying to ban Muslim immigrants from the United States, are not issues that millennials agree with," La Corte said. "I just think it’s a rejection of the 'millennial ethos.'"

Similarly, David Bier, 28, La Corte’s colleague at the Niskanen Center, said conservatives should oppose Trump for both pragmatic and moral reasons.

"If we’re going to win national elections, we’re going to have to choose candidates that are inclusive and that respect people from all backgrounds," Bier said.