Blissfully devoid of name calling, fact checking and scandal references, the Forensics Team and the Office of International Programs held a mock debate on Foreign Policy Tuesday, Nov. 1 — one week before America votes for the 45th president of the United States.
Two students assumed the roles of the two major presidential candidates and debated their positions in front of a mixed room of both students and faculty. Hodgenville sophomore Brian Anderson stood in the place of Donald Trump, and Des Moines, Iowa junior Lily Nellans acted as Hillary Clinton.
When introduced, it became clear that the students were not appearing to mock the insults and name calling of the actual presidential debates. The real goal of the event was to inform the audience of the candidates’ positions from a truthful and objective perspective.
“The main purpose was to show a civic, articulate view of the foreign policies without all of the email scandals, etc. so that the voters would know what Donald Trump would do on this issue, what Hillary Clinton would do on this issue and not what they felt about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as people,” Anderson said.
The surrogate candidates responded to three rounds of questions regarding international issues. They had two minutes to answer and 30 seconds to react to the other debater’s comment.
The moderator for the night was Michael McClellen, WKU’s diplomat-in-residence. He was joined by four WKU faculty members who acted as expert panelists: political science professor Roger Murphy, history professor Marko Dumančić, political science professor Soleiman Kiasatpour, and philosophy and religion department head Eric Bain-Selbo.
The Forensics team, led by director Ganer Newman, consists of 40 students who participate in public speaking competitions.
Nellans and Anderson both said their preparation for the mock presidential debate included reading many articles and speeches, as well as looking at analyses from objective think tanks in order to answer questions and ad-lib during the debate. They didn’t rehearse or have any prior knowledge of the panelists’ questions. Instead, they said they each relied on memory and thorough studying to channel their inner Clinton and Trump.
“My goal was to most effectively and purely represent Secretary Clinton’s foreign policy opinions and how she would respond to the questions that were being asked,” Nellans said. “I think what really helped me accomplish that was relying very heavily on Clinton’s own words.”
The mock debate opened up with Anderson responding to the first question, asked by Bain-Selbo, concerning America’s moral responsibility to dependent foreign countries, which comes with such great power.
Anderson clarified Trump’s “America first” policy, saying Trump will do what he can to always put the American people first, paying less attention to the morality that comes with the great power.
Nellans challenged this response stating Clinton’s position, which she said is to stand for human rights and democracy. Nellans claimed that isolationism, as in Trump’s policy, is dangerous. She ultimately believes help should be given when and where it is needed.
Topics concerning Russia’s presence in Eastern Europe, nuclear power possession, the candidates’ stances on the Syrian refugee crisis, NATO and other international agreements were addressed throughout the debate.
As the surrogates responded, they oftentimes responded with their own political opinions, quickly covering it up with “Secretary Clinton” or “Mr. Trump.” The audience erupted with laughter, applauding the two students’ enthusiam for the topics.
Nellans elaborated on Clinton’s stance on security, safety, humanitarian rights and the duty to support international alliances and the helpless oppressed. Anderson articulated Trump’s position on American isolationism, returning to the times of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. He drew on Trump’s belief to put the American people’s interests above all else.
“I think Americans forget that the most important duty entrusted to the American president by the Constitution is to be commander in chief, to have control over our military and have control over foreign policy,” Nellans said. “Americans seem to want to focus on domestic issues like the economy more often, but it’s important that they have the facts about foreign policy.”
The two final questions dealt with ISIS negotiations and border control.
Nellans spoke against negotiating with ISIS and instead defeating ISIS. She said this could be accomplished by increasing the number of air fleets and ground forces and ending the Syrian civil war. She also highlighted Clinton’s policy to secure the nation from foreign attacks by increasing both the intelligence exchanged with Europe and the training that is given to first responders in the U.S.
Anderson explained that Trump’s campaign illustrates a 30-day plan to end the war with ISIS. As far as border control, he plans to continue many of the same policies of the George W. Bush era but on a much more extreme level, such as his plan to build “the wall.”
Anderson encouraged the audience to “take what you will” with many of the idea and contradictions that come with Trump’s policy. Anderson made sure to stray far from his candidate’s forthright comments and instead focused on the message beneath it all.
“I certainly didn’t want to take on the character of Donald Trump, but I do think we both articulated the campaign positions as stated on the websites, as stated on the foreign policy speeches, to promote the most unbiased, factual and objective position that either of the candidates could have,” Anderson said.
The power of the applause at the end of the debate was intended for neither Clinton’s humanitarian support not Trump’s nationalistic ideals. The acclaim was for the surrogates who hailed before them defining what a debate leading up to the primary election should encompass.
Nellans and Anderson said they hope WKU students who attended the mock debate will have an upper hand among other voters at the polls on Nov. 8 as they have heard a clear explanation of the candidates’ positions on foreign policy without the mudslinging of the past debates.
“People need to keep in mind what kind of America they want to live in and what kind of world they want to live in,” Nellans said. “And whether or not they think the candidate they are voting for is going to make that world a safe and prosperous place for everyone.”