Whose debate is it anyway?

Just as the party madness of Halloweekend was winding down on Sunday Oct. 30, GW’s political activism was at it once again.

GW College Democrats issued the following statement on Facebook regarding a debate event with College Republicans Tuesday night.

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Later that night College Republicans responded with a Facebook post:

College Republicans accused College Democrats of falsely stating that College Republicans backed out of the debate. The post stated, “There was no clarification on the debate, the topic or the debaters themselves... GW College Democrats, like their nominee, are okay with deception and dishonesty.”

But it didn’t end there. Due to a miscommunication error within College Republicans, they had to retract their statement Monday afternoon.

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So, you must be wondering: was there a debate scheduled or not?

According to College Republicans Director of Public Relations Allison Coukos, in an email interview, there were no official conversations with College Democrats regarding the debate. She said College Republicans were confused when information came about regarding Tuesday’s debate, but they did have some knowledge of the event.

Coukos stated that on Sunday night, “Our leadership was informed that the event, date, topic, and debaters had been selected without our knowledge.” Due to an internal communication riff, not everyone knew the situation surrounding the debate. She said they reached out to College Democrats and didn't receive a response.

However, it was the e-board as a whole that didn't know. At least one member knew about it and didn't convey it to the rest. The organization as a whole did not plan for this debate nor did they believe it was happening, according to Coukos. They proceeded to retract their first Facebook statement. “While we disagree with the manner in which College Democrats addressed the issue, we felt that it was appropriate to retract the statement and issue an apology,” said Coukos.

The elephant in this metaphorical room is Donald Trump. Due to College Republicans' neutral stance on Donald Trump, they did not want to partake in any presidential debates, as Coukos outlined. The WRGW debate on Oct. 10, reflected this sentiment because due to College Republicans' split over Trump, candidate names could not be mentioned. It was an interesting and somewhat awkward dynamic between College Democrats and College Republicans as they spoke only of party platforms.

“We, given our neutral stance this semester, had discussed with College Democrats that we would not be taking part in any debates regarding the presidential candidates,” said Coukos. “Had we known about the debate and if it was a policy-focused debate (not focused on the candidates), we would have welcomed the opportunity to debate College Democrats.” As mentioned above, this type of policy-focused debate had already occurred with WRGW.

When asked if the organization was affected by not taking a stance on Trump, Coukous said it hasn't been. They were able to put on a fall speaker series and other events around campus. She also said they would not attend the debate, despite the fact it was still scheduled.

Late Monday afternoon on Oct. 31 College Democrats posted in the event page on Facebook that Alec DiFruscia would be representing the Republican Party, not College Republicans.

DiFruscia is a dues paying member of College Republicans who was asked to participate in the debate Saturday, Oct. 29. In an email he said he decided to accept the offer, because, “As a conservative on campus, I know that attracting students to conservatism cannot be done by not participating in open debates. I feel as though debating is an effective medium to bring conservative ideals to GW."

With regards to the Trump situation, DiFruscia, as a Trump supporter, said, “It is disappointing that CRs refused to back the nominee of our party, and it has affirmed some members' beliefs that the organization is more interested in being "popular" and appeasing some people on campus rather than standing up against Hillary Clinton.”

"It is disappointing that CRs refused to back the nominee of our party, and it has affirmed some members' beliefs that the organization is more interested in being "popular" and appeasing some people on campus rather than standing up against Hillary Clinton.”

GW Democrats' President of Communications Levi Debose gave the following statement: "We are extremely excited to confirm that our debate will go on! Our T. J. Clark will represent the Democratic Party and we're pleased to have Alec DiFruscia representing the perspective of the Republican Party. As College Republicans stated in their apology, we hope that both organizations will move forward and work collaboratively on future events."

The questions from the debate were taken from the presidential debates. None of them forced either debater to discuss or defend their party’s nominee. “Feel free to mention or not mention a candidate,” said Andrew M. Desiderio, the student moderator, with respect to a question about candidates releasing their tax returns.

“We had two minutes to answer the question and the rebuttal was about a minute long (though I don't think this was enforced),” said Debose in an email recap. Nearly 100 GW students attended this two-hour event. The discourse jumped between the Obama administration, 2016 candidates, and the debaters’ personal views. The College Republicans' e-board did not show up to the event, so Alec represented just the Republican perspective.

At the beginning of the debate, T.J. stated, “Alec, boy am I happy to see you.” He was referring to the fact that he was potentially going to be alone on the stage. It was a substantive policy debate with a little contention here and there, which is to be expected. Topics included: health care, race relations, the economy, job creation, taxes, immigration, the Supreme Court, and national security.

The issue of Donald Trump is a nationwide problem that many College Republican organizations throughout the country are struggling with. According to a USA Today survey from an article published Nov. 1, 52 percent of College Republican chapters at the top 75 colleges (as ranked by USA Today) did not issue a statement on Trump. GW College Republicans has not made a definitive statement on Trump, which has lead to much confusion and division.

We will finally have some relief when this election is over. According to the American Psychological Association, 52 percent of Americans reported some type of stress from this election. It's safe to say that we will all breathe a little easier when the topic of conversation won’t revolve around Miss America, email servers, the fate of democracy or red sweaters.

Originally published by Courtney Buble on gw.therival.news on 11.8.16.

CampusBrandon Bish