Alex Cullen ’18 is the son of an Air Force pilot who served for the past 22 years. Cullen believes that the issues in this election trump concerns about the candidates’ personality or character. He is most concerned about the future of the military, the Iran deal, Obamacare, and the Supreme Court. He told the HPR, “you might as well cast your vote in the direction that you would like to see our country go” and hope that it bears fruit. That is why Cullen has decided to support Donald J. Trump.
On the other side, Sruthi Palaniappan ’20 has eagerly supported Hillary Clinton from the beginning. She worked on the Clinton campaign in her home state of Iowa as a precinct captain, and she even became one of the youngest delegates at the DNC. While she recognizes that Clinton has a “likeability problem,” she believes that Clinton has the experience and character necessary for the job. She told the HPR, “Everything [is at stake in this election]. You have the most stark contrast between candidates that you could expect, and you have someone who I think would be extremely dangerous if he were to take office.”
It seems both sides agree on one thing: this election matters, and will impact American lives for years to come. Yet unlike Cullen and Palaniappan, many Harvard students have gone through this election season feeling unenthusiastic about either candidate. The candidates’ personal flaws and scandal-ridden pasts, the lack of civil political discourse, and the defeat of popular primary candidates have made many students feel voiceless and unsatisfied this election cycle. There is no question that the stakes in this election are high are high—but for many, the bar set by the candidates is too low.
Hillary for Prez
In a room peppered with Bernie-Sanders-stickered laptops, the Dems’ Campaign Committee, affectionately termed “CamComm,” meets every Thursday to phone bank and canvass for Hillary Clinton and Democratic senate candidates. Members of CamComm dedicate their time because they believe that grassroots organizing can have great impact, especially in this election. Campaigns Director Gabe Hodgkin’18 told the HPR, “This election year is obviously a unique election year, and an especially scary election year, and so given that, I do think that phone banking and canvassing are especially important.”
Although about half of the Harvard College Democrats supported Bernie Sanders during the primaries, the group has come together post-convention to support Clinton against a candidate who they perceive to be a greater evil. Dems President Susan Wang ’17 told the HPR that while “I think [Bernie supporters] are kind of disappointed that their preferred candidate didn’t win the nomination,” the club has seen many new active members campaigning this election cycle that weren’t involved before.
While many former Bernie supporters in the Dems have rallied around their party’s nominee, the same has not occurred within the Harvard Republican Club. Since it refused to endorse Trump on August 4, in a Facebook post that garnered 189,000 likes and national press attention, the majority of the club has worked to make sure Trump doesn’t get elected.
Club President Declan Garvey ’17 explained that Trump’s offensive comments about Judge Curiel, the Khan family, and other subgroups turned many of the college Republicans against him. By the time the club met to discuss endorsements for the 2016 election, 80 to 90 percent of members did not support Trump as their candidate. Garvey told the HPR that at the club fair in September, 30 or 40 freshmen were inspired to join the Republican Club because of its refusal to endorse Trump.
For many in the Republican Club, being “Never Trump” generally means voting third party. The Libertarian ticket of Johnson and Weld is a popular option, with a plurality of 36 percent of the Republican Club’s support. Conservative candidate Evan McMullin, who is rapidly gaining support in Utah, is another option. However, the Libertarian ticket differs greatly from the typical conservative ticket, especially given its socially liberal stances on issues liberalism on matters like abortion, gay marriage, and marijuana legalization. It also holds a different perspective on national security and the United States’ role in the world, leading some to remain dissatisfied with the options that vary so greatly from the moderate conservatism of Republican Club favorites like Rubio and Bush. Many are concerned about the future of the Republican Party, and expect challenges ahead.
Garvey noted, “This is a really divisive election and for most people there is not really a super desirable candidate on either side.” According to Garvey, the club’s purpose for the year is “rebuilding conservatism, and shaping the party into what we want it to be.” He foresees a battle over the future of the Republican Party between classical conservatives and the nationalistic alt-right. Alex Cullen echoed Garvey’s prediction. He told the HPR, “Regardless of if Trump wins, there will be a fracture of the Republican Party… I think the Republican Party needs to undergo this conflict in order to re-establish an identity as to what it wants to fight for.”
Disaffected and Unheard
While the Dems and the Republicans have wrestled with concerns over the election, the Libertarian Forum has initiated get-out-the-vote phone banking for Gary Johnson. As a third-party candidate, Johnson has little chance of winning. Yet, as Libertarian Forum President Peter Wright ’19 told the HPR, “In this election, voting for a third party candidate in Gary Johnson … shows that you’re dissatisfied with the current political system and that you want change.” He personally believes that voting is not a game to play out, continuing, “If you sacrifice your principles to pick the lesser of two evils, you’re doing the wrong thing.” He sees the two major party candidates as bad choices for America, and hopes this election will help catapult the Libertarian Party into the national spotlight, given its typical exclusion from media coverage and the debate stage.
While a survey of incoming freshman by the Crimson revealed that 80 percent planned to vote for Clinton, and similar numbers are probably true across the college, this choice is not easy for many who see both candidates as problematic. The media coverage, racial divisiveness, offensiveness, and dishonesty of both campaigns have alienated many and turned off potential voters. Harvard conservatives want to see a restructuring of the Republican Party, and the vast majority cannot understand the xenophobia, racism, and outright offensiveness that they see spreading in their party. Some Harvard liberals want to fight for a Democratic Party closer to Bernie Sanders’s vision, though most are willing to back Hillary. In the meantime, third parties are rapidly attracting disaffected students who want to shock the system into change, hoping to divert attention to parties they think actually reflect their views. While the issues at stake this year have motivated students like Palaniappan and Cullen to take strong stances, many students believe the bar needs to be raised.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons