College Republicans Erupt in Civil War Over Kid Rock Cash
A year out from the midterms, young Republicans are at war over the American Bad Ass’ contributions and a disputed leadership race.
Decades ago, future GOP operatives like Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Karl Rove cut their teeth in internecine battles over control of the College Republicans. Now the College Republicans’ national group has descended into a civil war that includes allegations that the new generation of College Republicans has been engaged in some ruthless machinations all their own.
Major state federations are set to secede as early as this weekend from the national organization, while Republican lawmakers who graduated from college long ago are weighing in amid accusations of election theft.
At issue, in part: the question of what happened to more than $100,000 donated by Michigan rap-rocker and one-time Senate candidate Kid Rock.
The fate of Kid Rock’s contribution has become one in a series of flashpoints centered on the claim that allies of the head of the College Republican National Committee (CRNC)—the national group that ties together the state College Republican federations—exploited an elections rule to prevent a challenger from taking power at a vote last weekend. With major state groups threatening to secede after the vote, Republicans face the prospect that a key source of campaign volunteers will collapse into disarray a year out from the midterms.
“If this organization falls apart, as it’s angling to do, that is going to cost the Republican Party elections,” said Augustus LeRoux, the chairman of the New York Federation of College Republicans, whose federation is expected to secede from the national College Republicans in a few days.
On Tuesday, the Mississippi Federation of College Republicans voted unanimously to become the first state group to secede, accusing top College Republican leaders of being more interested in “furthering their own selfish ambitions than in defeating the radical left.”
The College Republican election fight centers on its latest chairman race, which pitted Southern Regional Vice Chair Courtney Britt against Western Regional Vice Chair Judah Waxelbaum. Supporters of Waxelbaum cast themselves as anti-establishment reformers looking to clean up the CRNC and give more power to state groups and say Britt was tacitly supported by the CRNC’s outgoing chairman, Chandler Thornton.
The campaign between Waxelbaum and Britt reached a heightened pitch on July 11, when the state federations supporting Waxelbaum lost fights to receive credentials to vote for the chairman during the July 17 convention. The credentialing dispute, which has been closely covered by the conservative National Review, revolved around whether state federations provided enough letters from universities to prove they had enough active chapters to qualify to vote. Waxelbaum’s backers suspected a plot to sabotage his campaign, citing late-night emails and meetings and an email Thornton sent to help a state perceived as supporting Britt receive their credentials.
With many of Waxelbaum’s states disqualified from voting, Britt won the chairman’s race on Saturday, setting off the race for disgruntled state federations like California, Texas, and New York to mull secession.
“The 2021 CRNC Biennial Convention was conducted in accordance with the rules that have existed for many years,” Britt said in a statement. “The desire to disregard the Constitution, and subvert the rules to win elections, has now begun to seep into College Republicans. We must remain steadfast in our commitment to election integrity and move forward together to elect our Republican candidates up and down the ballot.”
During the race, Waxelbaum’s allies seized on allegations that Thornton hadn’t been transparent about the CRNC’s finances. Ty Seymour, the CRNC’s outgoing treasurer, told The Daily Beast that Thornton and other CRNC officials were “not really [showing] any transparency in any of the financial information.” Announcing their decision to secede on Tuesday, the Mississippi College Republicans claimed there were “major discrepancies between our internal budgets and the information we provide to the IRS.”
Amid the fights over bylaws and credentials, however, much attention has centered on an unlikely character: Kid Rock. In 2018, Rock donated $122,000 from the merchandise sales from an abortive Senate run to the College Republicans. Rather than go to the national committee, however, the money was donated to a separate, previously little-known organization controlled most recently by Thornton and an ally called “CRNC Action.” The fate of the donations was turned into a campaign issue in a “dossier” criticizing Thornton that was produced by the New York College Republicans.
“No one ever told me the chairman had his own organization,” Waxelbaum told The Daily Beast.
Waxelbaum said it’s not clear what Kid Rock’s money was eventually used for.
“I assume they spent it on something,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you what.”
Thornton and a representative for Kid Rock did not respond to a request for comment.
Controversy loomed in the College Republican leadership race even before the credential fight. In June, an attorney representing the CRNC warned Waxelbaum in a letter obtained by The Daily Beast that an independent expenditure Waxelbaum had created called the “College Republican National Leadership Committee” had too similar a name to the CRNC. Worse, the lawyer wrote, Waxelbaum’s group was erroneously registered with the FEC. If Waxelbaum didn’t withdraw the organization from the FEC, the lawyer threatened to inform the FEC, raising the prospect of an enforcement action against the candidate. Waxelbaum’s group’s registration with the FEC was terminated soon thereafter.
In May, Britt was targeted by anonymous Twitter accounts that alleged without evidence that Britt had relationships with other members of the group or concocted sexual-assault smears to undermine her rivals.
“I have never had a romantic or sexual relationship with anyone in College Republicans,” Britt wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. “I have never made or directed anyone else to make false allegations of sexual misconduct against anyone.”
After the vote, several College Republican state federations, including Florida, California, and New York, are considering secession. The credential fight and subsequent unrest from state chapters prompted Republican politicians, including Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and Arizona GOP head Kelli Ward, to slam the CRNC’s handling of the election.
“This shouldn’t be written off as school club drama, or young politicos vying for power,” LeRoux, the New York chair, said.