As a Republican going to school in the San Francisco Bay Area, Claire Chiara is used to being represented by politicians who fall far to her left on the political spectrum.
Seeing those Democrats win doesn't really bother her. "The voters of the district lean that way and that’s perfectly fine, they choose their own leaders that represent them," she told Refinery29.
But when she realized earlier this year that her district's representative in the state assembly was going to run unopposed and "get elected essentially automatically," well, that was the final straw.
"I feel like that strips the voters of your district of that right to self-determine, and I think it’s un-American for an incumbent to feel that they don’t have to answer to their voters because there’s no one else the voters can choose," she said.
So Chiara, a 22-year-old rising senior at the University of California, Berkeley, decided to run for the seat herself. Chiara doesn't exactly fit the mold for the typical Republican. She's a young woman (the share of both millennials and women who identify as Republican hover around 35%). She lives in a solidly blue state (Democrats hold every single statewide elected office in California), and she supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
But Chiara, a Donald Trump supporter and state GOP activist, hopes she can represent a new generation of Republicans — and attract more women like her to vote for her party.
Chiara sat down with Refinery29 during the Republican National Convention, where she was serving as her state's youngest delegate, to talk about her beliefs, her campaign, and her party's nominee for the White House.
So, what's it like being a young Republican living in such a liberal area of the country?
"Unsurprisingly, it’s a challenge. But anyone that asks, I’ll tell them that I thoroughly enjoy it and I think it’s a lot of personal growth for me. And I face a lot of adversity — whether it’s on my own campus with administrators, professors, students, many people that share the same beliefs that are different from mine, or out of the city just with residents of Berkeley who are also very liberal. I think that adversity actually strengthens the resolve that I have to champion my beliefs, because that discourse and debate is a really critical part of a thriving democracy, and especially of the college experience."
What shaped your beliefs? What attracted you to the Republican Party?
"I was raised by two parents who both work in finance. Growing up in my household, because I had no siblings and my parents worked in the same industry, our dinner table conversation and our casual discussions in the car going places, they were always about finance, economics, and how those issues were intertwined into the world. So, from 5 years old, my worldview was very much shaped from the perspective of economics and taking an economic approach to everything in life. That was my first introduction to politics.
"My parents are Republican, but they’re not involved in the party, they’re very casual Republicans. So, they didn’t really influence me to be a Republican. They influenced me to consider things from a practical and logical perspective of economics, finance, bottom lines, and understanding what’s efficient and what’s reasonable.
"In 2008, there was the McCain-Obama election. I was a freshman in high school and I would say that 80% of my peers were supporting Obama — whether it was having his sticker on a cell phone or making phone calls for him or casually saying he’s the better candidate — and I felt like I needed to speak to people my age and I needed to speak to people older and I needed to go out into the world and truly understand, Why do I look at this differently? Why do I look at these issues differently from my peers? Why is it that all my peers are Democrats and I’m willing to affiliate with the Republican Party? That was my political coming-of-age in 2008. I started to research the issues and I realized that my driving ideals are fiscal responsibility, limited government, free markets, and individual freedoms. I felt that the Republican Party was the party that represented those."
How do you feel about gay marriage as a political issue? The party platform has made the issue a topic of discussion here at the RNC.
"I’m personally a supporter of same-sex marriage. I consider myself very moderate on social issues. And I’m involved in a lot of organizations that champion changing that dialogue within the Republican Party and pushing us a little bit forward. With regards to the platform, I was disappointed, as were many of my colleagues and friends, that we maintained part of that language that we feel is outdated. In June 2015, we had a Supreme Court decision that settled this issue. So, I don’t think it’s really open for debate anymore, but we still have a lot of people in our party that feel passionate about it. I respect those beliefs, but those are not my beliefs."
You are a Trump delegate at the RNC. Why do you think Donald Trump would be a good president for the country?
"Well, there are three different reasons why I support Trump. The first one, and my primary reason for feeling that he’s the best face for the Republican Party in 2016, is he is a moderate on the social issues. And dating back to 1999 or even earlier, he has been on record with journalists explaining how he’s totally indifferent towards an individual’s gender or lifestyle choices or ethnicity or other factors. He’s all about results, performance, and hiring the best people for his jobs. And there are gay individuals and female individuals that have been employed by him and being outspoken for years about how Donald Trump is really color-blind when it comes to that stuff. And he’s not going to be a president that uses same-sex marriage as a main component of his stump speech. So, that’s really important for pushing that issue to the periphery, where it should be.
"The second piece for me is the fact that we’re seeing a lot of turmoil internationally right now. And over the course of the last eight years, Barack Obama was the president, but that administration also included Hillary Clinton. And Hillary Clinton is really the other option in November. We’re not going to elect a third-party candidate — it’s Trump or it’s Clinton. And I’ve been really frustrated, as have many Americans, with a lack of action on the part of this administration in defending both American lives and lives internationally by pursuing terrorists and ending this uptick in radical terrorism that we’re seeing. It’s very scary. And so, I think Donald Trump has an acute understanding of that issue, and he’s not going to play politically correct games, he’s not going to beat around the issue, he’s going to be very direct about what it is, and he’s going to care deeply about resolving it.
"The third thing is I’m a fiscal conservative and I feel that the government imposes far too many regulations on individuals, on businesses, in the form of taxes and other laws. Coming from California, we have probably one of the worst state governments when it comes to state-level laws, regulations, taxes driving businesses away. So, this one hits home for me.
"I think that Donald Trump, being a political outsider, being removed from this lineage of political establishment and career politicians, and [having] actual career experience in the private sector is going to be a critical component in our next administration [in] understanding, how do we turn this economy around, how do we treat the government the same way we treat our bank accounts, how do we start focusing on efficiency in the bottom line, not just what sounds good or seems good. And he seems to have a keen knowledge of that from my perspective."
There are concerns, including among some female Republican delegates I’ve talked with, about some of the things Trump has said about women being sexist or misogynistic. What do you think about that?
"I think that the media has managed to create a red herring out of this issue. Pulling some quotes dramatically out of context or pulling quotes from multiple decades ago and throwing them into the spotlight. As we’ve seen with many individuals in the public spotlight, including individuals like Hillary Clinton, people’s ideas and opinions do evolve over time. And as human beings, we can’t look at our candidates as if they’re robots. We have to see them as humans, as the way that we are, and acknowledge that.
"I’m a firm believer that Donald Trump is not a racist, not a sexist, not a misogynist. I’m a firm believer that he’s none of those things, and I feel that his priorities and his track record with his businesses provide an illustration of his belief that it doesn’t matter how you look, it doesn’t matter what you do in your personal life. What matters is that you’re the best candidate for a role.
"So, I think he would likely fill his cabinet with the most qualified individuals for all of those positions, regardless of whether they were men or women, or any gender, sexuality, or ethnicity."
What’s your plan for winning over some of those women who are Republican or independent and are wary of Trump?
"Well, one of the great things for me, being a candidate, is that I’m forced on a daily basis to interact with people from my community who have different beliefs from me. Because a majority of women are Democrats, when I speak to women, there’s more than a 50% chance that they’re going to be Democrats.
"One of the questions I get [is]: 'But you’re young and you’re a woman and you live in Berkeley!' I've got all these things going for me that would make me not be a Republican. And I think the curiosity that’s piqued by me being a unique element in the environment surrounding me, leads people to want to ask questions and be willing to stand by and discuss the issues and say, 'Why are you a Republican as a woman?' And it gives me the footing to elaborate on that.
"So, my plan — and this is what I’ve been trying to do since I got involved in all of this — is I ask people a lot of questions and I talk to them and I try not to come from a position of judgment, but instead a position of curiosity. Because there’s really no room in this tumultuous world that we live in for judgment based on what you look like, what you sound like, or, really, what your beliefs are. It’s important to talk to people and hear their world perspective that you don’t share, learn about what it’s like to walk in their shoes, and then you can begin to understand where the two parties differ on issues. And so, being a young woman and being a Trump delegate and being a Trump supporter, I really hope to be able to speak with people of all ages and all different backgrounds about why I am the person that I am, and hopefully they will be interested in the same beliefs that I have."
I think sometimes people in general, but especially young people, don’t realize what impact state legislatures have in their lives. As a candidate for assembly in California, can you talk about that?
"Absolutely. It’s a little bit undemocratic that a lot of people are not aware of who their state senator is. We focus so much on the federal-level stuff, on the laws, on the president, even Congress and the United States Senate, that people don't realize that a lot of our daily lives [are] impacted by the laws that are passed right in Sacramento.
"Running for a state-level office has opened my eyes a little bit to that. Because I start discussing issues like taxes with people, and sometimes they’re not as aware that most of these taxes you’re frustrated by — your gas taxes, your state income taxes, "sin" taxes — many of these are decided by people that hail from your own communities and should feel number one beholding to the people of their small districts. They’re not passing laws for the entirety of the country, like your congressmen are, they are passing laws for only this state.
"So, I try to explain to people, if you’re frustrated by some issues that you face in your daily life, then you need to start at your local level for city council and the state legislature. And if you feel your elected officials are not representing you, then you must always reserve the right to vote them out."
Do you have ideas of what you want to do beyond this? Do you want to be involved in politics in the long run or continue to run for office?
"I get asked a lot, 'Is this the career you want to be in?' This is not a career for me. This was a passion that turned into a hobby, and then, as my hobby, I became more passionate about it. It snowballed into this tremendous engagement and activism, but this is not my career path. I care deeply about the future of the country and I care deeply about the size of the government and protecting individuals’ rights to pursue happiness, so that’s what drives me to be involved in this.
"It’s not party politics that I’m interested in. It’s Americans and American lives, and the vast diversity across America being preserved by our government, rather than threatened. And so, I mean, it’s very likely that I’m not going to win. I’m running against a Democratic incumbent in a district with roughly 7% Republicans, so it’s an uphill battle, for sure. But I’m really hoping that at least this race — if I never run again — provides people with an opportunity to hear from a different voice, and provides them with a choice in their ballot."
Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.