Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman engage students in political discourse

Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman visited campus to discuss political issues with students. Photo credit: GCC&M

Chris Matthews (third to right) and Howard Fineman visited campus to discuss political issues with students. Photo credit: GCC&M

By Annika Jensen, Editor-in-Chief

Howard Fineman of The Huffington Post and Chris Matthews of MSNBC held a private, on-the-record roundtable with representatives of the college’s political organizations on campus Thursday, October 6. Participating in the discussion were members of College Democrats, College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty, Students for Hillary, Model Congress, the Gettysburg Anti Capitalist Collective (GACC) and the Eisenhower Institute. The Gettysburgian was also present.

Fineman and Matthews discussed the upcoming election in an attempt to gauge the general political climate of the college and Adams County, focusing in particular on the millennial vote, which both agreed to be crucial in next month’s decision. Fineman questioned the group about the millennial opinion of Hillary Clinton, to which Piper O’Keefe, College Democrats, responded that she, as well as other college students, supported Clinton because of her experience as Secretary of State and her ability to build and maintain relationships with foreign leaders.

Andrew Dalton, Students for Hillary, commented that young voters had a tendency to view Clinton as a candidate of the past, but after the Democratic National Convention they began to see her potential as the future of the Democratic party. He cited her plan for college affordability, which he believes to attract Bernie Sanders supporters, and expressed his belief that Donald Trump does not have a broad base of support on campus.

Zachary Bartman disagreed, saying that students find appeal in Trump because he is genuine, but many are afraid to come forward and say they will be voting for him. He believes Trump’s running mate Mike Pence to be helpful in garnering the millennial vote and cited Pence’s performance in the first vice presidential debate, claiming Pence to be more professional than his opponent Tim Kaine.

Christopher Condon, Young Americans for Liberty, suggested that millennials were more likely to support Bernie Sanders because he has maintained the same stances throughout his career, while Clinton has changed her opinion on important issues. He also mentioned the need to include Gary Johnson in the discussion of the upcoming election, citing Johnson’s popularity among millennials.

Matthews countered Condon’s argument, claiming millennials fear Johnson because of his apparent pride in being uneducated on global affairs. Condon argued that Johnson is still qualified though he “stumbles in interviews,” to which Matthews replied,

“Last night he couldn’t name any foreign leader. I can’t name a hockey player, but I’m not the head of the NHL.”

When asked about Clinton, Ben Taber of the Eisenhower Institute described the candidate as hawkish but reinforced her intelligence and willingness to listen. “She has to play up the hawkishness because she’s a woman,” he said.

Aljosa Mrsovic, GACC, expressed that he did not support Clinton as a candidate but approved of some of her policies and attributed Donald Trump’s appeal to his personality and overexposure from the media. Bartman cited a different reason for Trump’s rise to prominence, saying that the candidate represents an outsider for many people as one who pushes change against the status quo.

Matthews and Fineman then posed the question of the efficacy of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to which Jamie Welch, The Gettysburgian, cited the issues currently plaguing the act, such as millennials not signing up for coverage. Piper O’Keefe countered, asking, “Who in here isn’t on health insurance?” When no hands were raised, O’Keefe continued, asserting that the Affordable Care Act is effective in covering college students and that students at Gettysburg have healthcare because of Obama’s policies. Kelsey Meisch, the Eisenhower Institute, agreed, predicting that when students turn 26 and are no longer able to remain on their parents’ insurance plans, their attitudes about the Affordable Care Act will change.

Also discussed was social security, which all participants agreed is a delicate subject and one that carries stigma in political discourse. “Talking about social security is pretty radioactive,” Welch said.

When Fineman asked about the political climate of Gettysburg College and other liberal arts colleges that “believe in facts, science, and discourse,” Mariam Aghayan weighed in on demographics, referencing her Political Science capstone in which seven of roughly 16 students in the class are Trump supporters; furthermore, Aghayan said, all seven are “white heterosexual men in fraternities.” She accused Trump of fear mongering, particularly toward Muslims, claiming he is “one star of David away from putting them in a database.”

Matthews and Fineman steered the conversation toward voting in Pennsylvania. Bartman expressed confidence in the state voting for Trump, while Dalton claimed that while Adams County might lean more Republican, business owners are not buying into the “Trump phenomenon” because of their reliance on migrant workers. Piper O’Keefe mentioned that more Gettysburg students have registered to vote this year than in 2012.

Corrine Day, College Republicans, weighed in on Trump’s treatment of women: “I cannot support someone who has no respect for [us].” Day stated that she has been a Republican all her life but will be supporting Clinton in this election because of Trump’s reactionary nature and carelessness: “He doesn’t seem like someone who should run a country.”

Aghayan concurred, stating “People who think he can run a business think he can run a country.”

Danielle Jones, College Independents, spoke up to express her frustration with the two-party system, claiming that both Clinton and Trump alienate young people. She believes that this election will bring about a new system and the millennial vote will be higher. Meanwhile, Rachel Haskins, the Eisenhower Institute, insisted that young people voting for Gary Johnson do not actually resonate with his platform, they are simply casting protest votes.

Fineman and Matthews ended with a question: If the Pennsylvania election were held today, who would win? The majority of the room predicted success for Clinton, while Bartman maintained confidence in Trump, citing the crucial role of Bucks County.

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