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With Turning Point USA at the wheel, Trump's campaign is in for a bumpy ride

TPUSA's influence over the Trump campaign has become clearer over the past few weeks. Republicans may regret it.


We're in the thick of election season, and the MAGA movement appears to be letting young influencers drive the Trump campaign. And as with many novice drivers, this is shaping up to be a pretty bumpy ride.

I’ve written a lot about the rising power of younger conservative activists, particularly affiliates of Turning Point USA, within the Republican Party.

But lately, they have been flexing their influence over Team Trump’s public relations efforts, as well as some of its policy priorities. And while I’ve argued that this is bad for the GOP’s electoral chances (mostly because the MAGA youth have devised some pretty harebrained ideas, as you'll see), it’s still interesting to watch the GOP leadership seemingly let the kids occasionally take the wheel.

As an example, the staged fried chicken giveaway in Atlanta last week, which Trump and his campaign promoted as effective outreach to Black voters, was coordinated by a Black TPUSA affiliate

Trump’s appearance Tuesday at a Harlem bodega, where he yet again sought to use an act of violent crime to his political advantage, was apparently an idea spawned by Gavin Wax, a TPUSA ambassador and president of the New York Young Republican Club. This, too, was pitched as an effort to reach Black and Latino voters. 

Side note: These stereotypical, opportunistic PR stunts are missing the point entirely. These influencers don't seem to get that, to the extent there’s any novelty in seeing Trump in places often frequented by Black or Latino people, it’s arguably because Trump’s history of racism would seem to make these stops unlikely. Photo ops don't seem like an effective way to paper over that.  

Wax clearly has the ear of Trump's campaign. Trump praised him by name at a December gala after Wax gave a speech calling for Republicans to prepare for “total war” against their political enemies. (Wax's organization also hosted a 2022 gala attended by several prominent GOP lawmakers and white nationalists.)

NBC News reported Tuesday that a TPUSA contributor was among several right-wing social media accounts tapped to promote Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson's press conference last week, during which they fueled conspiracy theories about noncitizens fraudulently voting in federal elections.

And TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk was a key voice in the ultimately unsuccessful push to get Nebraska to enact a winner-take-all system for the state's electoral college votes.

These are just a few recent examples of TPUSA and its young affiliates' modus operandi. They're big on camera-friendly publicity stunts that they can use to churn out viral clips and photos. And they're more shameless than older conservatives in their attacks on liberal democracy. That's undoubtedly having a major influence on Trump's campaign.

Yet, it also risks turning off non-MAGA voters whom Trump will likely need to win this fall. So he may regret putting these youths in the driver's seat: They may be sending him full-speed ahead into a brick wall this November.