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Charlie Kirk’s right-wing empire is losing a key asset: students for Trump


As the 2024 presidential election gets underway, the political arm of Turning Point USA, the influential right-wing nonprofit led by Charlie Kirk, is losing a key asset: Students for Trump.

Since 2019, Students for Trump has leased its popular web domains and social media accounts to Kirk’s Turning Point Action, supporting the group’s move toward more explicit campaign work and solidifying its identity to donors as the nation’s premier conservative youth movement. With more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Students for Trump amplified Turning Point’s online megaphone, sending the coverage viral and rallying activists around the former president.

According to contract documents and people familiar with the situation, Students for Trump is now reclaiming control of those assets, raising questions about how closely Turning Point will be associated with Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign. has been reported, shows how the Turning Point network, which has gained prominence over the past seven years for its proximity to Trump, struggles with its role and direction as parts of the GOP search for an alternative standard bearer.

The divorce follows a failed attempt by Kirk’s chief deputy, Tyler Bowyer, to gain more control over the Students for Trump accounts, well-informed people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private transactions said. The changes Bowyer made include removing the Trump name and renaming the accounts as official Turning Point properties. He discussed using the rebranded accounts as part of a new initiative using social media influencers to raise money for political candidates, according to people who heard Bowyer’s pitch. But not all of the money would go to the candidates, as influencers would get a share of every fundraiser they run.

According to people familiar with the discussions, the idea did not go down well with Students for Trump national president Ryan Fournier. Fournier said he wanted the identification with Trump to remain explicit and was concerned that the revenue plan proposed by Bowyer, the chief operating officer of Turning Point Action, the political arm of Turning Point USA, would leave too little money for candidates.

Turning Point spokesman Andrew Kolvet said there was no intention to rename the social media accounts as long as Trump was running for president. He also said that Turning Point leaders “are still allies of the Students for Trump project and wholeheartedly support it.” Fournier declined to comment.

The dynamics are delicate one for Turning Point, which has long been able to pitch its pro-Trump tent large enough for other major GOP politicians to flock to the group’s conferences. However, a competitive presidential primaries could soon pit Trump against some of those politicians, testing the loyalties of groups like Turning Point.

Galas hosted by Turning Point at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida in the past For two years, donors have heatedly debated whether renominating Trump would hurt the party’s prospects, those in attendance said. “Probably the most common opinion is, ‘Please, God, let it be someone else,'” one person summarized the comments.

One option favored by some of the group’s benefactors is Ron DeSantis, Florida’s popular Republican governor. “I think Ron DeSantis would be Donald Trump without all the baggage,” Doug Deason, a Dallas investor and member of the Turning Point USA advisory board, told the Daily Mail.

Bowyer helped bring DeSantis to Phoenix, where Turning Point is located, several months before last year’s midterms. Kirk clashed with DeSantis in the Tampa Bay area on the Saturday before the midterm elections, days before DeSantis was running for re-election, as many of Trump’s favored candidates stumbled.

Charlie Kirk issues a warning to the RNC, causing a backlash

Last month, DeSantis sat down for a one-on-one interview with Kirk at the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee and spoke favorably of Kirk-backed candidate for Republican National Committee chairmanship, Harmeet Dhillon, taking on a failed challenge with Trump-backed Ronna McDaniel.

Kirk, on another episode of his talk show, called Trump’s support for McDaniel “demoralizing,” though he reaffirmed that he supported Trump in 2024 “enthusiastically, by the way.”

Turning Point as an organization, however, is less clear about its plans. It has barely rejected Trump like other high-profile activist groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by billionaire Charles Koch. But it also immediately opposed endorsing Trump after his announcement last fall, as did some groups targeting young conservatives, such as the New York Young Republican Club and the California College Republicans.

Turning points more ambiguous attitude his latest attempt to reinvent himself, as well as the growing pains of a group fueled by Trump-era culture wars. Founded in 2012 to promote support for free markets among youth, it quickly became an aftermath of Trump’s MAGA movement, raising more than $65 million annually, according to public records from Turning Point and its affiliated groups, which are set up as non-profit organizations. With those resources, Turning Point grew into a conservative influence machine with political jamborees, podcasts, biblical citizenship classes, and elementary education.

How a pro-Trump youth group remade the Arizona GOP and put democracy to the test

Over time, Turning Point’s efforts to transcend Trump’s movement have come at odds with Students for Trump, which has maintained a staunch mission to build support for the MAGA movement among youth. Fournier founded the initiative in 2015 while studying in North Carolina, first as a single Twitter account. Today it has about 250,000 followers on Twitter. An Instagram account brings its 832,000 followers a stream of memes ridiculing Democrats and the left.

Turning Point Action’s own social media accounts, meanwhile, maintain more modest activity, with less than 10,000 followers on Twitter. The group’s 501(c)3 arm, Turning Point USA, has a larger following, but tax laws limit its election-related work.

A 2019 press release announcing the acquisition of Students for Trump called it a “social media phenomenon” and said it would anchor the network’s campaign work in the 2020 cycle.

“Students for Trump will be the official chapter-based, pro-Trump student group on hundreds of college and high school campuses across America starting this fall,” the release promised.

A profile of Kirk on the Turning Point site says that in 2020, Students for Trump “activated hundreds of thousands of new college voters through the more than 350 chapters present on campuses in battlefield states.”

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