For a campus as politically engaged as Wesleyan, it’s saying something that only thirty people attempted to fill Exley’s Tischler Hall for Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate viewing. One of the largest lecture halls on campus, Tischler remained cavernous even at peak attendance during the debate, with echoing laughter and chatter permeating throughout the mostly empty room.
Hannah Skopicki ’18, one of the event’s organizers, offered an explanation for the sparse attendance.
“I think there are a lot of factors,” she said. “The fact that we’re a small liberal arts college in the northeast does breed a lot of more liberal-leaning students. Also, when the Democratic debate was happening, it wasn’t pouring rain outside.”
Those who did brave the elements, however, saw value in having on-campus debate viewings. Matt Renetzky ’18, a registered Republican who considers himself a moderate conservative, believes that these debate viewings provide an opportunity for students to experience political events with others.
“I think it gives a space where students can come together and react as a student body to what’s up on the debate [stage],” he said. “The political environment at Wesleyan and the political environment outside of Wesleyan are two different things and have two different reactions to what a Republican may say on stage. You get to be with like-minded people and react together.”
When asked how on-campus reactions differ from those off-campus, Renetzky pointed to the humor University students find in many political statements or dispositions that are part and parcel of mainstream America.
“I think Wesleyan students will laugh at certain things that a candidate may say because they seem so ridiculous to us, but in other places that’s totally logical,” he said. “That’s what’s bringing Trump, Carson, and others to the front while here, you know, they would be in dead last by far.”
First-year student Joshua Cardenas ’19 also came to the debate viewing, because he believes that events like these help to unify people on campus.
“The value of watching the debate is [to] raise one’s awareness of the candidates running for president—their vision for America, policy positions, qualifications for president, among others—to make an informed decision on election day,” Cardenas said.
Skopicki, a founder of Arcadia Political Magazine, a bipartisan publication that seeks to encompass a wide swath of political views that go beyond the two mainstream parties, believes that these debates importantly inform people who are of voting age.
“I think having a debate viewing on campus is really important, because we’re of the age to vote and the more educated we can make ourselves, the better and more informed we will be,” Skopicki said.
Emmakristina Sveen ’17, Chairman of the Wesleyan Republican Committee and candidate for both Treasurer of Middletown and Middletown’s School Board, wrote to The Argus on the value of on campus debate viewings while she was at the statewide Connecticut College Republican debate viewing in New Haven.
“The importance and value in hosting a Republican debate viewing is no different than the importance and value in hosting a Democratic debate viewing on campus,” she wrote. “It doesn’t matter what reputation Wesleyan has, or the manner in which certain people try to frame the student body. Wesleyan is a liberal arts institution that cultivates an environment in which students can formulate their own ideals, their own opinions on issues that we all now have an actual vote on. Whether those views be Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative; the value in providing college students, new voters, free access to view every single presidential debate is critical.”
As for who the favorites were during the debate, many attendees expressed a liking for Senator Marco Rubio.
“I’m leaning towards Rubio,” Renetzky said. “I think he’s strong and moderate.”
Evan Wasiak ’19, who was seated near the entrance to the lecture hall encouraging his fellow students to sign an anti–Citizens-United petition for Connecticut Public Interest Research Groups (ConnPIRG), sees Marco Rubio as the future of the Republican party and plans to support him come the primary.
“I’m [for] Marco Rubio, mainly because I think that he’s the future of the Republican Party,” Wasiak said. “I think he has ideas that moderates and even liberals can agree on….I’ve also spoken to Democrats on campus who have said that they’re afraid of Marco Rubio running because they know that he’s a huge threat as opposed to someone like Donald Trump, who people think is a joke.”
Although many pundits agreed that Marco Rubio won the debate, the night was not considered an overall success for the GOP. In fact, many thought that the chaotic nature of the debate left CNBC as the biggest loser, with its moderators failing to maintain control over the candidates whom they were questioning. The best example of this was Donald Trump denying a moderator’s claim that Trump had called Marco Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator,” and insisting that in fact CNBC had written the quote, when in fact the statement was on his own website. This led some conservatives in the audience to wonder if there could be an alternative to the Republicans as their party of choice.
“I hope there will be the rise of a center-right party,” Renetzky said. “I think that’s what’s lacking. You have this division of people in the Republican Party who don’t believe in climate change, don’t believe in a woman’s right to choose…. I think we need the rise of a center party, because the Republican Party is going to die off.”