On a warm January evening in Tempe, Arizona, Jon Willis was walking down a palm tree-lined path on the campus of Arizona State University when he saw something that made him irate: a student wearing a T-shirt silkscreened with the image of Che Guevara.
“I thought, kid, you don’t even know who Che Guevera is,” says Willis, a commercial real estate broker in Mesa, Arizona.
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A Che shirt on a college campus might not stick out for most people, but for Willis, 36, it touched a nerve. It was just the latest confirmation of his worry that more young people today are embracing socialism, even Marxism, instead of American capitalism. “Some of these kids have no real desire to build something on their own,” says Willis, who works for a firm founded by his father. “As long as these kids get something for free and they get taken care of, they’re happy. What they don’t know is that the world that works that way—the socialist world—leads to extreme poverty and eventually death.”
The way Willis figures it, the blame for this perplexing boom in American socialism lies with left-leaning professors, who push uninformed, anti-capitalist messages on campuses. On that warm night in January, besuited and bespectacled, Willis was there to fight back. His vehicle was the Arizona State chapter of Turning Point USA, a national campus group whose mission is to “identify, educate, train and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government.” Willis, who was there to speak to the Arizona State chapter members, is also a donor to the group.
Turning Point USA, founded in 2012, claims to be the fastest-growing conservative student organization in the country, with just more than 400 officially registered chapters in high schools and colleges nationwide, and a buzzy annual summit that draws all the top celebrities of the young right. Its loyal donor base, heavy on conservative activists, self-made entrepreneurs and family businessmen like Willis, ponied up almost $10 million last year alone.
In Tempe, on that warm night in January, Willis talked to a crowd of about 20 Arizona State students about his family firm, which has done more than $1 billion in real estate development work, and talked up the virtues of the free market. Nobody in the audience, it goes without saying, was wearing a Che T-shirt. One did have a “Trump-Pence ’16” hoodie. “Turning Point USA is really the group that is making conservatism cool to millennials,” Willis told me a day after his talk.
Making conservatism cool isn’t officially one of Turning Point USA’s objectives, but it’s never really far from the agenda. The group’s motto is “Big Government Sucks.” Or, as it is usually rendered, #BigGovSucks. Its chapters hold meetings and stage events in support of limited government and the free market; its national office publishes liberal-tweaking pamphlets and crafts social-media memes.
The mission might sound clear enough, but some of what Turning Point USA actually does is anything but. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Turning Point USA is required to be “nonpartisan,” which means it can’t endorse candidates or support political campaigns. But a recent New Yorker investigation found former employees who said Turning Point USA had done work for two different candidates in the 2016 presidential race. Turning Point USA has also stocked its annual conference with a plethora of pro-Trump speakers, including Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump’s wife, Lara Trump. Adding to the murkiness, Turning Point USA also says it is running a campus leadership program that has—through training or direct financial support—helped more than 50 conservatives be elected student-body president, including at left-leaning campuses. It’s proud of the program and uses it to fundraise, but when I started making calls, I found that success rate to be considerably overstated. In fact, some of the students that Turning Point USA claimed to have backed flatly condemned the organization and said they’d never spoken to anyone who works for it.
At the center of the puzzle of Turning Point USA stands one person: 24-year-old Charlie Kirk, the founder, public face and chief fundraiser for Turning Point USA. He started the group just one day after he graduated from Wheeling High School in suburban Chicago, saying back then that Turning Point USA’s mission was to cheerlead for the free market. The donors I spoke to for this story still see that as central to this mission. (“One thing I like about Turning Point,” Willis says, “is that it is educating these kids, right in front of their socialist professors’ faces, that what they are being told about capitalism is wrong.”) But Kirk, not unlike the GOP overall, has become split between Trump—an ardent trade protectionist whose policies could push the federal deficit over $1 trillion—and the free-market, limited-government principles espoused in the group’s charter.
Kirk spent the past several months of the 2016 presidential election cycle working on social media outreach for the Trump campaign, building close ties with the Trump family. Donald Jr., as the headline speaker at Turning Point USA’s annual summit in December, exchanged bro hugs with Kirk before taking the stage. The president himself called Kirk “a great warrior” at a White House conference on Millennials this past March.
Others have praised Kirk, too. Kirk has been called “a rock star among millennial conservatives,” a “conservative boy wonder” and “the future of conservative politics.” But as Kirk and his cash-rich organization have increasingly embraced Trump-style grievance politics, they’ve recently been called some other things. Specifically: “Hateful,” “unethical” and “racist.” Still, the Trump wave appears to be pushing them higher; Kirk, a relentless salesman for his organization, says that fundraising has never been better and more than 100 new campus chapters applied to launch in just the first few months of this year. So what are they joining, exactly?
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Charlie Kirk is the kind of young conservative a sitcom writer would dream up, 6-foot-4, thin and pale-skinned, something like Family Ties’ Alex P. Keaton elongated to the scale of Veep’s Jonah Ryan. He has wavy brown hair, parted on the right and flopping left across his forehead, and is most often clad in a navy suit or blazer. Technically speaking, the 24-year-old still lives with his parents, though he spent 338 days on the road last year on Turning Point USA business. On his frequent visits to Washington, D.C., Kirk most often stays at the Trump International Hotel, and I met him there several times over the course of reporting this story.
During one of those meetings, in February, he left our chat and walked through the lobby gladhanding and backslapping amid a buzzy crowd that was gathering just hours before President Trump was to deliver his first State of the Union address. Then Kirk sat down with two wealthy Dallasites to do what he spends much of his time doing: delivering the sales pitch for Turning Point USA.
Those who buy into Turning Point USA—literally buy into it; Kirk calls these donors his “investors”—tend mostly to be men middle-aged or older. Many run family businesses. Some are billionaires. Others are sons of billionaires. Most, of course, are Republicans, and almost all inhabit a conservative media universe that pumps them with anxiety about liberal kids. Kirk is not shy about saying he’s selling them a solution to those worries.
“You can’t watch Fox News without seeing five or six segments a day about the nuttiness on college campuses,” Kirk told me in one of several interviews we conducted starting in November of last year. “You pair that nuttiness up with people in their 60s and 70s who are beginning to map out where they want a significant portion of their wealth to go, and they’re saying, ‘I don’t want my money to go to my university. It’s not representing my values.’ Then we come along.”
On the day of the State of the Union, Kirk presented his pitch in the Trump lobby to 66-year-old Trammel S. Crow, the son of the late billionaire real estate magnate Fred Trammel Crow. Trammel S. Crow is a Republican environmentalist who sports a gray ponytail, and he was joined in meeting Kirk by Gentry Beach, a 41-year-old Dallas-based investment fund manager who was a groomsman in Donald Trump Jr.’s 2005 wedding. Beach, a Turning Point USA donor, introduced Kirk to Trump Jr. before the 2016 election.
Kirk has given his pitch hundreds of times in the Trump Hotel lobby alone since Inauguration Day, and hundreds more times to potential investors he’s met traveling the country. Kirk tells them his personal story, an up-from-the-bootstraps tale about how a kid just out of high school with no political experience decided to build a national nonprofit, how he’s building a registry of young conservative students and calling them to action in support of limited government and limiting liberalism in academia. The appeal, especially to people who run their own businesses, is easy to see. It’s a story where entrepreneurship fuels a polished new offensive against campus lefties.
Kirk hadn’t yet honed that pitch when his first big backer said “yes.” That backer was Foster Friess, the 77-year-old Republican megadonor known for bankrolling Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign and for his strident critiques of Islam. Kirk approached Friess at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa and asked him to donate to a new, student-focused group he’d recently created. “He gave me $10,000 a couple weeks later,” Kirk says. Suddenly, Kirk had money and the support of a conservative heavyweight. “That was the greatest investment anyone ever made in me,” Kirk says.
It took time for that investment to pay off. Kirk says he almost shuttered the whole operation more than once. But other big names eventually followed, including current Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose family foundation donated $100,000 in 2014 before he was elected to the statehouse. Kirk still gets funding from foundations like Rauner’s. He has also inked sponsorships from the conservative Heritage Foundation and the libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation as well as from the Heartland Institute and the National Rifle Association, whose logos are attached to Turning Point events. (The NRA is the signature sponsor of Turning Point USA’s annual young women’s leadership summit; Kirk, who owns multiple guns, spoke up for the organization after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.) Support is picking up: Today, Kirk says, the group has 20,000 different donors who gave a total of $9.8 million last year, double the amount raised in 2016. (The group’s 2017 tax filing isn’t yet available; its 2016 filing showed donations of $4.3 million.)
Most of Turning Point USA’s donors are individuals like Gary Rabine, CEO and founder of the Rabine Group, a paving company in Schaumburg, Illinois. Rabine was an early donor, starting in 2013, and perhaps Kirk’s most significant early supporter. He’s worried about campus leftism, and told me, at length, that his college-age children had to push back repeatedly against what they heard their professors say about American business. “I was bothered that there was so much effort in education put into telling kids they were wrong if they believed in free enterprise and capitalism,” Rabine says.
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Rabine is not wrong about kids these days. Polling data do show that young people have become more inclined in recent years to embrace socialism: A 2017 YouGov survey found that 44 percent of American millennials would prefer to live in a socialist country with just 42 percent saying they prefer capitalism. A 2016 Gallup poll showed the two economic systems nearly in a dead heat among young people.
Turning Point USA is extremely adept at pumping out counterprogramming. It pokes liberals constantly on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. It produces ebooks that sound like liberal-trolling blog posts: The Case Against Gun Control; 10 Ways Fossil Fuels Improve Our Daily Lives; 10 Ways America Is the Best Country in the History of the World. From its headquarters in Lemont, Illinois, it annually distributes more than a million pieces of literature that go into the “activism kits” mailed to campus chapters. Those kits might include leftism-resistance manuals like “How to Debate Your Teacher (and Win),” or any number of small posters with slogans like “You are entitled to nothing” and “Coexist,” the latter riffing on a liberal bumper sticker by building the word “Coexist” out of illustrated guns and bullets. (The “o” looks like a target site, the “t” like an Uzi.) Turning Point USA also holds several events throughout the year, drawing on a lineup of speakers who are popular with young conservatives—Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro and Kirk himself. And it brings speakers to campuses who will happily inflame audiences, like Milo Yiannopoulos or former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka.
The central Turning Point USA strategy seems borrowed from the playbooks of older conservative campus groups, all of which drew energy as reactions to the campus left—the Horowitz Freedom Center, the Young America’s Foundation, and the Leadership Institute. Amy Binder, a sociology professor at the University of California at San Diego who is co-author of the 2014 book Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives, says those older groups, and now Turning Point USA, have found that attacking the academic powers-that-be is a strategy that sells. “When you take on school administrations, it really wins you a lot of fans in the donor base,” Binder says.
Turning Point USA so far has earned most of its notoriety from the Professor Watchlist, a naming-and-shaming database launched two weeks after Trump’s election. The Watchlist purports to track professors who “discriminate against conservative students” and promote “leftist propaganda.” Some academics have called the Watchlist a new form of McCarthyism; student groups have balked, too. At Drake, a student governance panel last year cited Turning Point USA’s “hateful record,” along with unspecified tweets by Kirk on “social issues,” as reasons for denying Turning Point USA status as a formally recognized campus club. But the list is also ill-maintained and often inaccurate. I reviewed its entire list of 226 professors, representing 156 different schools, and found multiple cases of professors being listed for things they didn’t exactly say or do, and others listed for petty criteria, like being rude to students or making quips about Trump.
A more intriguing tactic Turning Point USA has come up with, and one of its main promises to donors, is to get conservatives elected to student leadership positions. This represents a clever end-run around the rules that govern political nonprofits: As a 501(c)(3), Turning Point USA is technically nonpartisan and can’t endorse political candidates or participate in federal, state or local elections. But that restriction doesn’t apply to campus elections, and so the organization has raised more than $2 million to fund an ongoing plan aimed at getting conservative students elected to top leadership positions at universities across the country. Those include everything from executive positions with fraternities and sororities to student body president.
One of its main promises to donors is to get conservatives elected to student leadership positions—a clever end-run around the laws that govern political nonprofits.
Kirk has spoken only sparingly about Campus Victory. But he detailed the effort to Politico Magazine. Twelve full-time Turning Point USA staffers are assigned to Campus Victory. They work on identifying potential conservative candidates for student leadership positions, making contact with those potential candidates, and offering support. That can include professional training in campaign and leadership techniques and direct financial assistance—what Kirk calls “stipends”—to campaigns. The stipends can be a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. The money can be spent in any number of ways, including campaign staff or swag.
One successful candidate Turning Point USA backed was Max Goldfarb, who ran for a student panel at the University of Wisconsin that oversees disbursement of student fees. After Goldfarb won, he pushed in a committee hearing to defund the university’s Muslim Students Association. Another committee member objected, suggesting Goldfarb was bringing his Turning Point USA politics into the issue. In the end, the student panel rejected Goldfarb’s motion to completely defund the MSA, but it did slash the group’s budget.
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The Campus Victory program has already roiled multiple student elections. In an investigative story last year, the Chronicle of Higher Education called Campus Victory a “stealth plan for political influence” being operated by Kirk and his group. The Chronicle found Turning Point had funded candidates for student government at eight universities. They included the University of Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State and the University of Maryland. Turning Point’s candidates either lost or withdrew from many of those races after the group’s involvement was made public by campus newspapers, according to the Chronicle. In response, several universities are now considering, or have already adopted, what amounts to campaign finance reform—imposing restrictions on the assistance student candidates can accept from third-party sources.
Turning Point USA hasn’t backed off because of the controversy, and in fact donors see these races as a sign of money well spent. “How many seats we’re winning in student councils and government councils and presidents of student bodies is really an important metric for the organization,” says Doug Deason, a member of Turning Point USA’s advisory council, which consults with Kirk on big strategic decisions. Deason, 55, is the son of an IT billionaire, Darwin Deason, who sold his Affiliated Computer Services Inc. to Xerox for $6.4 billion in 2010. The younger Deason, a Ted Cruz supporter who then got behind Trump, is also one of the 500 donors who give at least $100,000 annually to organizations backed by GOP megadonors Charles and David Koch. (Kirk says the Kochs are not donors.)
Campus Victory may be important to donors like Deason, but those donors may be getting skewed data about the program’s success. I obtained an internal Turning Point USA document detailing Turning Point USA’s Campus Victory project and its progress as of early last year. The document listed 50 universities across the country and indicated that, at each, Turning Point USA had backed the candidate elected student body president. Many candidates were pictured in the document with “WIN!” superimposed behind their pictures.
When I contacted a random sample of those 50 winning candidates (including those at Arizona State University, UCLA, Syracuse University, Indiana University, the University of North Carolina and James Madison University), all denied they had worked with Turning Point USA on their campaigns. Two said they had been contacted by the group, but the others said they’d never dealt with anyone from Turning Point USA, nor had they accepted any money or other support. Several went further and spoke against the organization.
Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh, the Undergraduate Students Association Council president at UCLA, condemned Turning Point USA and said neither she nor anyone in her campus political party, Bruins United, has taken any money from the group. A Bruins United post on Facebook called Turning Point USA an organization “that openly promotes hatred and bigotry.”
Dan Niersbach, student body president at Indiana, told me via email that he had had “no experience working with Turning Point USA,” and “The Indiana University Student Association does not support their divisive rhetoric nor their unethical involvement in student government elections.” James Franco, the Student Association president at Syracuse University, told me he met a Turning Point USA staffer for coffee eight months before he ran for his current post. The staffer offered “financial backing or staffing or leadership support,” which Franco says he did not accept. “If they took a look at our campaign platform, I don’t think they’d want to support us,” Franco says. “We campaigned on having Syracuse University be a sanctuary campus.”
Turning Point USA’s claims of influence in campus elections don’t stop with the Campus Victory document. In March, Kirk emailed his donors—and me—to claim that a big turnout for a Turning Point USA-sponsored speech by conservative pundit Ben Shapiro at Creighton University was thanks, in part, to “a successful student body presidency victory.” But Patrick Marta, the recently elected president, told me he hadn’t worked with Turning Point USA on his campaign, nor had he received any funding from the organization.
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In total, I spoke to seven college candidates whom Turning Point USA has, in one form or another, claimed to have supported in their successful bids for student body president. To a person, all said they’d never worked with the group. I told Kirk what I’d found, without listing the specific universities, and asked why Turning Point USA might be claiming to have supported candidates it appears never to have worked with. He emailed a reply: “We don’t comment on the effectiveness or strategies we take to ensure common sense leaders ability to prevail over radical leftists.” I asked him again, listing the schools where I had called the student officials, and he wrote back: “As we discussed we have been very successful implementing hundreds of our members in leadership positions on campus in a variety of ways. Including leaders you mentioned.”
Was he saying the students were lying? I asked that question as well, and pressed for details, but Kirk told me he could not comment further on the issue.
Turning Point claims grass-roots support on campuses across the country, but the closer you look, the patchier the grass sometimes seems. I searched through about 200 different social media feeds out of Turning Point USA’s 400 officially registered chapters and found that multiple chapters haven’t updated their pages in months; some haven’t been touched in more than a year. The Facebook pages that are active tend mainly to repost things put out on the national Turning Point USA Facebook feed. Memes abound, as do videos featuring Kirk himself, whose image seems to be as central as any local issues the campus chapters might be interested in.
Kirk’s public profile has steadily grown since he joined the Trump campaign in 2016, and he now appears often on Turning Point USA social media feeds in video clips taken from his speeches on campus. In one recent example, Kirk argued that people are not inherently good. “We have to teach goodness to our infants,” Kirk says in the video. “We have to tell our babies to stop crying. … I believe we’re broken by sin upon birth.” In one common trope, Kirk is touted to be “destroying” various things. Socialism. Liberals. White privilege.
The last of those has been a hot subject for Turning Point USA, particularly in the wake of a December 22, 2017, story in the New Yorker. In that article, Jane Mayer uncovered two troubling things about the organization. The first was that its No. 2 executive had allegedly once sent a text message stating, “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all … I hate blacks. End of story.” The executive, Crystal Clanton, was fired 72 hours after the New Yorker told Kirk about the text message. People I spoke to within Turning Point USA said Clanton had sent the message when she was 18—four years before she joined the organization, and that Turning Point USA only learned of its existence from the New Yorker. “We dealt with it immediately,” Kirk says.
Clanton oversaw most of Turning Point USA’s 85 full-time staff members, the vast majority of whom work outside its headquarters/warehouse in Illinois. (The staff now numbers 130.) She ran the field operations, the part of the organization that sets up chapters and recruits students to fill those chapters. (Most of Turning Point USA’s chapters were established by staffers who visited campuses and found students and faculty advisers interested in joining.) I spoke to a number of people who work for, work with, or are members of Turning Point USA, none of whom said they saw systemic racism in the organization. Doug De Groote, a California financial adviser who is a Turning Point USA advisory council member, told me “There are bad apples in every barrel. I don’t see racism or any of that stuff at all at Turning Point USA.”
There is undeniably a racial component to the message often delivered by Turning Point USA, though; part of the group’s appeal is its message that white students don’t need to feel guilty about the things their liberal classmates want them to feel guilty about. When Kirk delivered a speech called “Smashing Socialism” at Colorado State University in February white nationalist and antifa protesters clashed outside, and the issue of “white privilege” came up inside as Kirk took questions from the audience. “White privilege is a myth and a lie,” Kirk said. “It should be completely destroyed. It is a racist idea. Why don’t they ever talk about Asian-American privilege? Asian Americans were widely discriminated against in the 1940s and ’50s. We treated them horribly and put them in internment camps. Then, through a series of decades of making good choices, they’ve now become the richest per capita sub-racial group in America.”
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Turning Point USA chapters have also mocked affirmative action by holding “affirmative action bake sales” where whites and Asians are charged more than Hispanics and blacks. The issue is tied to Turning Point USA’s founding. Kirk told me—and has said in public several times—that in high school he received a congressional appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but lost that slot to a different candidate—a person he told me was of “a different ethnicity and gender.” He believes the other candidate may have been admitted because of affirmative action. (West Point officials have said they do consider race in admissions, but only for candidates who also fully meet their admission criteria.)
Kirk bristled when I pointed out to him that, on Turning Point USA’s website, 69 advisory council members are pictured, and only one is African-American. “I’ll concede the point on aesthetics,” he told me in the lobby of the Trump Hotel in February. “But the accusation is a little bit of a cheap shot. Just because you have a group of people who look the same doesn’t mean they think the same, and we have great intellectual diversity in our organization.”
Kirk told me he has plans to add several African-American advisory council members in the next few months. In the meantime, Turning Point USA is also adding a Black Leadership Summit to its events lineup. That will join the Latino Leadership Summit that’s now in its third year. The Black Leadership Summit will be overseen by African-American political vlogger Candace Owens, whom Turning Point hired in November 2017 as director of urban engagement. She has since been promoted to the group’s overall communications director. Owens is also tasked with establishing Turning Point USA’s first chapters on campuses of historically black colleges and universities.
“The opportunity to go after more minority youth and deliver our message is something we embrace,” Kirk says.
The second point in the New Yorker story involved allegations from former Turning Point USA employees of possible 501(c)(3) violations involving support for the presidential campaigns of Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The report quoted sources who alleged Turning Point USA staffers, including Kirk, recruited members to attend a rally on Cruz’s behalf and, in a separate instance, provided a list of Turning Point USA members in Florida to the Rubio campaign. Direct support of political candidates is a violation of 501(c)(3) rules and could result in the loss of nonprofit status.
When I asked Kirk about that, he said the group has never violated 501(c)(3) rules, and the work done by any staffers was on their personal time. “We have never violated a 501(c)(3) law,” he told me. “Any accusation of such is libelous and factually incorrect and does not stand any sort of merit in the face of the law and I will fight that to the fullest extent the law allows me.” He also told me, exasperatedly, that Turning Point USA’s attorneys are constantly beating a drum about compliance when he meets with them. Because of their careful legal work, Kirk explains, he was able to work for Trump’s campaign in 2016—and can speak in support of the president today—as long as he’s clear that he is doing so not as Charlie Kirk, executive director of Turning Point USA, but as Charlie Kirk, private citizen.
That’s a fine line, and Turning Point USA has apparently been walking it nearly from its founding. Turning Point USA was granted its 501(c)(3) status in August 2014 and Kirk has said publicly that both he and Turning Point USA staffers worked on behalf of Bruce Rauner’s successful 2014 gubernatorial campaign in Illinois. Kirk told a Silicon Valley audience in 2015 that, in the last 30 days of Rauner’s successful campaign, Turning Point “members and those people associated with our organization were able to knock on over 58,000 doors and make over 107,000 phone calls.” And, in his 2016 book, Time for a Turning Point: Setting a Course Towards Free Markets and Limited Government, Kirk wrote, “We barnstormed the state and mobilized students in every county to help Bruce defeat the Chicago political machine.”
When I asked Kirk to explain how that work for Rauner wasn’t in violation of Turning Point USA’s nonprofit status, Kirk told me, by email, that he “personally was involved with the Rauner campaign alongside some other students who personally volunteered their time.”
It’s not always easy to figure out where Charlie Kirk, private citizen, ends and Charlie Kirk, executive director of a nonpartisan student organization, begins. In mid-March, Turning Point USA itself posted a video on Instagram of a navy-suited Kirk discussing President Trump’s first year in office and excitedly arguing that Trump “is on track to be America’s greatest president!”
It’s not quite clear why a protectionist president who attacks individual companies would be so thrilling to a free-market campus group, but that kind of exclamation-point giddiness for Trump has been a winning strategy for Kirk himself. He’s toured multiple campuses over the past few months on a speaking tour where he attracted big audiences and, often, big protests. He’s also a Fox News regular, appearing frequently on the network either to talk about wacky liberal professors or campus protests or Trump or, more recently, gun rights.
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Kirk left his normal perch at Washington’s Trump Hotel during the March For Our Lives on March 24 to go out into the crowds and debate protesters. He had a Turning Point USA staffer in tow to record the ensuing face-offs, which were promptly posted on Facebook and Twitter.
All of that, plus Trump retweeting four of Kirk’s tweets last December after Kirk complimented Trump’s leadership during an appearance on Fox & Friends, has been a boon to Kirk’s Twitter following. He has added more than 200,000 followers just in the five months since he and I first met.
As Kirk’s star has risen, his close alliance with the Trump family and personal support of Trump has raised concerns among some of those involved with Turning Point USA. “Some of the members have a problem with Charlie’s supporting President Trump,” says Jessica Dobrinsky, president of the Turning Point USA chapter at West Virginia University. Dobrinsky, though, who says she “dabbled in socialism” before joining Turning Point USA, is not one of them. She’s on Team Trump.
John Chachas, a Turning Point USA donor and a member of its advisory council, also has some problems with Kirk’s cozy relationship with Trump and the first family. “This organization is bigger than any one presidency or any one president,” says Chachas, a well-known investment banker who ran, unsuccessfully, for U.S. Senate in Nevada in 2010. Chachas also frets that the Professor Watchlist may be “too caustic.” “Charlie is a really talented and inspirational guy,” Chachas says. “But there’s a really deep bench of people that are working in the organization. … This organization is about harnessing the power of a very large part of the American electorate and making sure we’re pursuing things that are in the best interest of young people.”
Kirk says he has a deep respect for Chachas’ opinions, even when they diverge from his own. But, he’s also adamant about one thing: Kirk and his directors and senior staff—and not their “investors”—will make the final decisions about what is in Turning Point USA’s best interest.
“This organization is not the brainchild of the billionaire elite who met in some smoke-filled room one day and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” Kirk says. The provocations, the Watchlist, the embrace of Trump—whatever the donors may think, Kirk says they have Turning Point USA on the rise. He says the group now averages “two new chapters opening each day”; a Facebook video of Kirk’s remarks on white privilege has garnered more than 6 million views. He’s done that his way.
“It started with me hustling,” he says. “I was the one seeking out the billionaires to fund a student movement, not the other way around. We are the ones going to investors telling them our vision. It is our enterprise.”
via POLITICO Magazine https://politi.co/2lnbIsw
April 6, 2018 at 04:33AM