Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, spent two and a half years working in the George W. Bush administration and, later, voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Now Bauerlein, one of the country's most vocal conservative academics, is one of the few in the profession openly supporting Donald Trump.
"We've reached a point where we need a jolt. We need someone who can take on the taboos and do so in a canny and effective way," Bauerlein said.
He's one of 150 academics and other writers who have put their names on a letter of support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, although the Scholars and Writers for America list includes many signatures of those from outside the traditional academy.
Frank Buckley, a Foundation Professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, said he and other conservative scholars helped organize the letter -- a brief, one-sentence statement backing the candidate -- to establish that there are some ideas behind Trump's candidacy.
The letter reads, "Given our choices in the presidential election, we believe that Donald J. Trump is the candidate most likely to restore the promise of America, and we urge you to support him as we do."
"There should be a campaign of ideas and not simply of personalities," Buckley said of the current presidential race. "Right now, the campaign is mostly a bunch of ad hominem attacks."
Buckley said Trump was attractive as a candidate because of his promised action on immigration and tax reform as well as a more prudent foreign policy.
He said the organizers of the letter had reached out to a few friends, who circulated the letter themselves. But Buckley said he excluded anyone from the list who was supporting Trump for reasons he didn't like.
Bauerlein said his reasons for supporting Trump were more cultural and social than political. The list of signatures includes academics like him and Carol Swain of Vanderbilt University, and familiar higher education critics such as David Horowitz and Roger Kimball.
It also features former politicians with scholarly credentials such as Newt Gingrich and Bill Bennett, and others such as Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and Facebook board member who bankrolled former wrestler Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker Media, and Charles C. Johnson, a right-wing blogger known for aggressive trolling on Twitter before he was banned from the website.
Joshua Dunn, chair of the department of political science at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, said the list of names is probably so broad because of the difficulty of finding university-based scholars to back a candidate who has become toxic even to many in his own party. Dunn, who co-wrote a book about conservatives in academe, said conservative faculty members are typically pro-free trade, pro-free market and skeptical of populist movements, whereas Trump has run a populist campaign espousing protectionist principles.
"You're going to have trouble rounding up many conservative faculty members," he said.
Dunn said even many who have signed the letter may not be terribly enthusiastic about Trump.
"Instead they're afraid of a Clinton presidency, so they kind of regard him as the least worst option for this election," he said.
The Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, has peeled off support from a handful of current and former Republican officials. And the newspaper endorsements that would go to a GOP nominee in a typical presidential election cycle haven't been forthcoming for Trump, who has repeatedly made racist and misogynist remarks throughout his campaign. Dunn said support for Trump would be controversial on most college campuses to an extent that a professor endorsing Mitt Romney would not have been.
Buckley said there are few registered Republicans in the academy to begin with and that, within that group, many vigorously oppose Trump.
"We're a minority within a minority," he said.
Bauerlein said both the left and the right have pushed the idea in this election that educated, intelligent people don't support the GOP nominee. He said the list of signatures serves as a counterpoint to that idea.
"The immediate message is that there is an intelligent case to make for Trump," he said. "That doesn't mean it's right. But it is rational."
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