Notre Dame students weigh in on GOP race

Since the 2022 midterm elections, the attention of the political world has shifted to the early stages of the 2024 presidential primaries, including on Notre Dame’s campus. 

Former President Donald Trump was the first to enter the campaign, declaring his bid on November 15, shortly after the midterm elections. On Notre Dame’s campus, Trump’s announcement served as a metaphorical starting gun for the primary debate between conservatives. Junior Mark Ballesteros told the Rover, “Trump’s announcement in November ignited a lot of debate between campus conservatives on the merits of Trump versus DeSantis.” 

As Ballesteros alluded to in his comment, there has been much discussion on the right about a potential Ron DeSantis presidential candidacy. The Florida governor is a consistent second to Trump in polling, occasionally pulling ahead of the former president. DeSantis has remained reticent about sharing any presidential ambitions, focusing instead on implementing his priorities in Florida. Any formal entry into the campaign would likely not occur until the end of the Florida legislative session in May, according to insiders. 

Ballesteros commented that “DeSantis has broad support [among campus conservatives] because of perceived electability, but a significant contingent is still behind Trump because he’s viewed as anti-establishment and and stronger on some issues.” 

However, Ballesteros acknowledged that “debate has been muted this semester as DeSantis’s intentions are not clear.” Additionally, though other candidates have entered the race, such as former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, “[they] are generally not taken seriously” by conservatives on campus, according to Ballesteros.

Sophomore Colin Smith agreed with Ballesteros’s framing of the campus debate as a mostly binary battle between supporters of Trump and DeSantis. Smith told the Rover by email, “Most of the arguments [in the debate] are either for Trump or Desantis, and I would certainly fall in the latter camp.” He elaborated on the on the campus debate: “In my experiences, the debates center around three issues: attitude towards the failures of the establishment, the … moral character of the candidate, and the ability to win the general election.” 

Echoing Ballesteros, Smith said that many rally to Trump because “[they] insist that he is the only one who has not sold out to the establishment.” But many others, including Smith himself, point to “[Trump’s] objective moral failures” and DeSantis’s comparatively “clear moral character” as a reason to support the Florida governor. Lastly, Smith asserted that “both sides argue about who is most likely to win the general election,” without either side having a definitive edge on this point. 

Although “Team Trump points to occasional polls” in support of Trump’s electability, Smith says that “Team DeSantis argues that those polls are a function of name recognition.” Supporters of DeSantis instead cite that “DeSantis won Florida, a critical swing state, by almost 20 points” in defense of DeSantis’s greater electoral appeal. In general, Smith confessed that these debates can make discussion of the Republican primary in campus conservative circles “a bit heated.” 

Though both Ballesteros and Smith described the campus primary debate as fairly split between Trump and DeSantis, some students do support some of the other candidates in the race. 

For example, Jake Williams, a sophomore who spent his fall working on Capitol Hill with the Notre Dame Washington Program, supports Haley’s candidacy. He believes Haley’s experience as a governor and Ambassador to the United Nations will enable her to deal with our nation’s pressing issues, particularly national security threats like China. Moreover, Williams says, “she will bring in suburban moms, independents, and minorities to vote Republican.” He thinks that “Trump has a lot of baggage from his first presidency and the time since that will inhibit him from picking up these votes.” 

Most importantly, Williams sees Haley as a unifier who will bring together a divided Republican party and country at large: “Beyond the party, I could see her unifying the country and fixing everything that the Biden administration has messed up over the last two years.”

Some others support DeSantis first but also prefer other candidates over Trump. Madelyn Stout is a junior who spent her summer as an intern in the Executive Office of Governor Ron DeSantis, where she was responsible for the drafting of press releases for recent appointments and the vetting of applicants. She finds “his leadership style to be incredibly inspiring” and believes “his track record could point toward a phenomenal presidency.” Pointing to his midterm performance as proof of his effectiveness, Madelyn thinks the Republicans Party needs younger faces: “I personally believe we need a next-gen Republican to take the mantle, and whether that be DeSantis or Haley, I think the that not only would the GOP be in good hands, but so would the country.”

No students told the Rover that they were supporting Ramaswamy’s campaign, but he does have some connections to the university. Ramaswamy visited Notre Dame as a guest of the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government just over a year ago, at which many asked whether he planned to run for elected office. 

Adam Morys is a junior from Downingtown, Pennsylvania majoring in history and philosophy with a minor in constitutional studies. When he is not reading, you can find him listening to music and taking walks around campus. Please email him at

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, from Republican National Committee

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