Bowdoin College hosted a debate between the five remaining presidential candidates in the David Saul Smith Union. Unfortunately, the candidates themselves were not in attendance, so five students decided to shoulder the sacred responsibility of democracy through representation. Thus began Bowdoin’s first-ever presidential debate by proxy.
With Damian Ramsdell ’17 as Bernie Sanders, David Levine ’16 as Hillary Clinton, David Jimenez ’16 as John Kasich, Jordan Moskowitz ’16 as Donald Trump, and Francisco Navarro ’19 as Ted Cruz, the dialogue flew furiously. The candidates discussed 2016’s most heated issues: immigration, taxes, abortion, national security, climate change, and gun control. While the tone of the debate was lighthearted, each proxy demonstrated impressive familiarity with his candidates’ statements and policies.
Perhaps as notable as the dialogue itself were the fashion choices of the candidates. While most opted for traditional blazers and ties, others chose to fully embody their political personae: Ramsdell donned an unkempt wig and thick Brooklyn accent while Moskowitz wore an understated “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.
After the debate concluded, each student broke character to deliver a candid statement on his personal political views and opinions on the candidates. While most students supported the candidate they chose to portray, others were more critical. “I do not support Ted Cruz for president. Many of the things I said tonight I really do not believe,” admitted Navarro, adding that he was nonetheless a proud Republican.
Others, like Jimenez, showed serious devotion for their candidate. “I almost got frostbite knocking on doors for [Kasich] during the New Hampshire Primary…I made speeches for him at the Maine caucuses….I think Kasich is a reminder of what real conservatism can look like in this country,” he said.
Jack Lucy ’17, president of the Bowdoin Republicans, and Amanda Bennett ‘17, president of the College Democrats, moderated the debate, aided by event architect Noah Safian ’17.
This debate is the first of its kind at Bowdoin. Safian recalled that the idea for the event occurred to him while watching a (slightly more official) televised presidential debate. “I wanted to see what Bowdoin students thought about it and how they would engage with these issues as if they were the candidates themselves,” he said. He brought the idea to Lucy, who extended a hand to the Democrats in order to make the event a bipartisan affair.
Bennett noted with excitement that this is the first time in recent history that the Bowdoin Republicans and College Democrats have collaborated so closely on an event. She was also glad to see the diversity of views represented at the debate. “Liberal views are expressed more on campus, so it was great to find multiple people who support republican candidates to speak publicly on their behalf,” she said.
The debate participants themselves also found the event rewarding. Levine, a true Clinton supporter, called the debate “a really fun experience” as well as politically enriching. “I found it actually helped solidify my support for secretary Clinton. Doing the research—diving into her policies, looking into what she’s said and what each of the candidates have said—really reminded me why I supported her in the first place,” he noted.