Trump's man on campus - 2018-04-07
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 last 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?