While most of us are used to seeing political debates in Washington D.C., last month, Houston Hall acted as a political forum where both Richard Murphy (C ‘19), executive director and acting president of College Republicans, and Dylan Milligan (W ‘20), president of Penn Democrats, met to discuss the 2018 midterm elections.
Richard developed a political identity during college. During his freshman year, he says, the culture on Penn’s campus pushed him towards conservative thought. Richard characterizes his politics as moderate, adding that he has no patience for “conspiracy theories.”
Dylan found that his values aligned with the Democratic party while in high school, even though his parents voted for George W. Bush twice. After registering as a Democrat, he caucused for the 2016 election—a “baptism by fire.”
“In 2016, Obama was president,” Dylan said. “18 is the year of ‘What the F is going on?’”
Dylan wasn’t the only Democrat affected by the 2016 election. When he was a freshman, the club took on about 30 active new members. This year, 170 signed up and more than 100 continue to be active, he says.
“Each time we canvas we knock on over 2,000 doors…We easily make 5,000 calls in a phone bank,” He adds, “Hopefully we contribute a couple of bucket–fulls to the Blue Wave.” Dylan attributes this to a “young, progressive wave of enthusiasm."
Richard feels that the 2016 election was more “emotionally–taxing” than the current elections, but adds that there generally seems to be more enthusiasm around these elections. He expects a greater turnout from voters of all political backgrounds, adding “People are very interested in having their voice heard, especially people who didn’t feel like they had it heard in the last election.”
Dylan mentions that many members of Penn Dems have felt more frustration leading up to these elections. “We saw family separation at the border, we saw the nomination of a justice who had credible threats of sexual assault against him, we saw the president trying to ban Penn students from Muslim–majority countries. These are things that are profoundly unfair to our students and to Americans," he says.
This enthusiasm affects how both clubs approached the midterms. Both leaders agree that registering people to vote is an important component. Penn Dems and College Republicans collaborated with other groups on “Penn Leads the Vote” and brought Joe Biden to campus.
Both Penn Dems and College Republicans have also actively endorsed candidates. Members of College Republicans went to Bucks Country to support Brian Fitzpatrick for Congress in Pennsylvania's eighth congressional district, and brought Pearl Kim, who ran in Pennsylvania's fifth congressional district, to campus.
Penn Dems organizes weekly canvases, and has so far canvassed for Scott Wallace in Pennsylvania's first congressional district, and Susan Wild in the seventh district. The club also organizes weekly phone banks.
One of the biggest electrifiers in this year’s midterm elections is Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Richard, expressing the feelings of many College Republicans, felt that the process “was a circus, frankly.”
While Kavanaugh was not personally his first choice, Richard notes that many College Republicans are “very pleased with the result.”
Dylan disagrees: "If there was a Democratic nominee to this post who had had the same accusations against him, I would think it would be in the best interests of our country and values of this nation for that person to withdraw.”
He pointed to the Democratic response to accusations against Al Franken, but Richard interjects: “Bill Clinton.”
“Well, sure,” Dylan responds, “This is before #MeToo. If Bill Clinton was in a position of elected office right now, and there were credible accusations of sexual assault against him, I think those should be investigated.”
Despite the increasing polarization in American politics, both leaders note that their groups offer a diversity of opinion.
Dylan says, “I know two members of our club that are registered Republicans and are independents simply because they don't like the Trump presidency and want to elect people who will resist the Trump presidency. And of course there are people in Penn Dems who are registered socialists, card–carrying DSA members.”
Richard notes that he is not personally a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, which he knows sets him apart from many other Republicans: “I actually align with Bernie Sanders on the issue of the Second Amendment—much to the chagrin of members in the club.”
Both groups believe in the importance of collaboration with each other. Richard said, “A lot of times people don't even talk anymore with people they disagree with.”
Even after a conversation riddled with moments of tension, Dylan and Richard shook hands amicably before they left. Afterwards, Dylan ran after Richard to ask him about collaborating on a project being spearheaded by the Undergraduate Assembly Project, demonstrating a willingness to cooperate that seems to be more common in Houston Hall than on Capitol Hill.