Widgets Magazine

Stanford in Government holds mock presidential debate

(Courtesy of Robin Willscheidt Photography)

(Courtesy of Robin Willscheidt Photography)

Student representatives brought the presidential candidates to life at Stanford in Government’s (SIG) mock presidential debate on Thursday, answering questions on policy and party platforms.

Event directors Lucas Rodriguez ’19 and Meredith Manda ’19 developed the idea for the debate to represent presidential policies before the election, hoping to encourage the student body to vote. SIG members have been planning the debate since August.

The goal of the event was to present party platforms rather than to reenact an actual debate. Rodriguez said he wanted actors to focus more on policy than attacking other candidates.

“This ideally will help you understand where the other side is coming from,” Rodriguez said.  “Not just what their policies are but why they think that policy is beneficial for the nation.”

Actors applied for their respective roles, each having to do an interview with SIG Public Policy Forum Committee directors. Students represented three of the presidential nominees: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Jill Stein. Rodriguez  said that they interviewed four people to play Clinton before deciding on Sawyer Birnbaum ’18. Rodriguez said SIG wants to put on peer-to-peer events that are both educational and entertaining.

As a member of the Stanford Democrats and a supporter of Clinton, Birnbaum said taking on Clinton’s persona was easy. To prepare for the role, he read the news everyday and studied Clinton’s policy platform.

“Let’s look at who the candidates are and who would be better. You don’t want to send a signal to the parties that what could happen under a Trump presidency is okay,” Birnbaum said.

With some difficulty, Rodriguez and Manda found Chapman Caddell ’20 to play Trump. Although Caddell is a member of the Stanford Democrats and is voting for Clinton, he said it was important to represent the views of the opposite party.

“Most Trump voters aren’t deplorable, they’re not irredeemable: they’re normal people, and if I can help people empathize with Trump voters, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job,” Caddell said.

Caddell as Trump made sure to end his speech with “Make America Great Again,” but limited himself to two “wrong” interruptions during the debate.

The organizers had not intended to find a representative for Stein, until Siddharth Patel, a Ph.D. student in the department of civil and environmental engineering, volunteered for the position. Patel is a member of the International Socialist Organization at Stanford, a student organization that is endorsing Stein.

Patel said he was eager to participate in the event to represent the benefits of a third party candidate.

“I think this is a great platform to reach a lot of young people and to win more people away from the politics of lesser evilism,” Patel said.

Debate moderator Shivana Pampati ’18 posed questions on healthcare, international relations and economic policy. Half of the questions were written by SIG members, while the other half were left open to the audience.

Audience member Ethan Oro ’20 said that he found the event informative and entertaining, especially regarding Caddell’s portrayal of Trump.

“It was refreshing to hear somebody embody Trump’s policies who didn’t have the connotation of wanting to shut off. Chapman [Caddell] was humorous and helpful,” Oro said.

There were about 60 audience members in total, including Stanford students and local residents. Audience questions ranged from immigration policy to anti-terrorism tactics.

Notably, Caddell as Trump had no response to the questions on ending terrorist efforts, which led Birnbaum as Clinton to call out Trump’s inability to follow through on his word.

“Some candidates here are simply using rhetoric to attract the average American, without having really any platform to stand on. One candidate doesn’t even know his own party’s platform,” Birnbaum said.

All three candidates responded to the question on immigration, a hotly-debated topic in the presidential race. Caddell as Trump said that the U.S. will erect a wall on the Mexican border, and that Mexico would pay for construction.

Meanwhile, Patel as Stein focused on reaching out to citizens by explaining the benefits of Green Party policy for citizens and documented immigrants. Birnbaum as Clinton focused on making citizenship accessible to those who apply for it, to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants.

Rodriguez said that the debate was intended as a form of peer-to-peer voter education. To that end, if the real-life candidate did not have a position on a particular issue, then the actor was encouraged to portray the view of the affiliated political party.

“We want people to leave feeling better qualified to vote and we want to fill the gap left by the actual debates,” Rodriguez said.

An earlier version of this article misattributed a quote about immigration to Siddharth Patel. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Gillian Brassil at gbrassil ‘at’ stanford.edu.