Before presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump battled at the final debate, Cornellians debated the efficacy of casting a ballot for a third party candidate at a forum designed to promote civil participation.
After the debate, both Cornell Democrats and Republicans reacted with alarm to Donald Trump’s refusal to confirm that he will concede the presidency if Hillary Clinton emerges from Nov. 8 victorious — many accusing the candidate of undermining the democratic system their organizations champion.
Before the debate, the Cornell chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority hosted “Own Your Vote” — an event dedicated to educating students about the policy positions of each candidate — in tandem with Cornell Democrats and Cornell Republicans.
The event covered the political stances of candidates Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Gary Johnson. Jill Stein was excluded from the discussion because the Green Party candidate is currently polling below two percent, according to coordinator Carlee Moses ’18, the chief education officer of Kappa Alpha Theta.
Members of Cornell Republicans and Democrats addressed concerns many students raise about the utility of voting for a third party candidate.
“Voting for a third party candidate is voting for your principles,” said Austin McLaughlin ’18 the executive director of Cornell Republicans and one of the night’s presenters. “If [neither] Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump embody the ideals that I embody, then in that sense I don’t think it’s a wasted vote to truly vote for who you believe in.”
In his response to the same question, Kevin Kowalewski ’17, the president of the Cornell Democrats, said that he believes Trump and Johnson are both unqualified candidates, calling Johnson’s policies “extreme” and adding that they will have “negative effects on the economy.”
This comment sparked a response from Cornell Republicans Chair Olivia Corn ’19, who replied that though Trump was “unfit for president,” this election had a “criminal on the Democrat side.”
“[Hillary Clinton] literally has no idea what the hell she’s doing,” Corn shot back. “She did a horrible job as secretary of state. I don’t think she is the proper choice for president.”
Presenters also discussed how Clinton has garnered a reputation for being an “untrustworthy” politician.
“I believe there are certain components to that narrative of being untrustworthy,” said Gunjan Hooja ‘17, vice president of the Cornell Democrats. “One is the fact that she’s been in the public eye for decades, so there’s been all these trials, these scandals — but there’s also a component of misogyny and sexism.”
Corn characterized Clinton’s narrative more critically, pointing to several inconsistencies within the former secretary of state’s political career, including the Benghazi terror attacks.
“She had actually revealed to the families the day after it happened that it was a terror attack; the next day, the [news] reports it and says it’s just a video,” Corn said.
Although hailing from opposites sides of the aisle, Kowalewski and McLaughlin agreed that Trump’s refusal to confirm that he will concede if Clinton wins the election represents a dangerous threat to American democracy.
“Trump’s divisive rhetoric incites violence, and his unwillingness to concede defeat if he loses demonstrates utter disrespect for the American democratic process,” McLaughlin said.
“The most important story from this debate is that Donald Trump refused to say whether he would accept the outcome of the election,” Kowalewski said. “With this absolutely disgraceful answer, Trump launched an attack on the basic legitimacy of our democracy.”
Kowalewski praised Clinton’s performance, saying that in each of the three presidential debates, “time and time again, in [these] high pressure situations, she has shined.”
“Hillary Clinton delivered another commanding performance. Much like the previous two debates, she offered a comprehensive explanation of her policy agenda,” he said. It’s nearly impossible to compare her detailed, nuanced answers to Trump’s rambling nonsense.”
McLaughlin said he believes that Trump’s performance at the debate reveals that “Trump has no foreign policy brief.”
“He argued with Clinton as if we are sending U.S. troops into Mosul,” he said. “In reality, the United States is only providing logistical support to Iraqi and Kurdish forces, not ground troops.”
Richard Ulbricht ’18, who intends to vote for Trump on Nov. 8, said neither candidate presented comprehensive military or foreign policy strategies.
“This debate was disappointingly unsubstantiated, and neither candidate proved their case for how the United States should conduct its foreign and military doctrine,” he said. “While Russia is running war drills with 40 million of its citizens and recalling its diplomatic officers, we talk about tax returns and immigration.”
Highlighting his belief that foreign policy in the next presidency, Ulbricht said he was disappointment by the lack of foreign policy discussion.
“The U.S. foreign policy doctrine is the most crucial to this election; I am dissatisfied that it was largely ignored, and when it was spoken of, used as a springboard for senseless namecalling from both Clinton and Trump equally,” he said.
Corn said she believes Americans need to reconsider who they nominate for president after this election cycle, concluding “both parties need to do some major restructuring after this election fiasco.”
Madeline Cohen ’18 contributed reporting to this story.