Editor's note: The author of this piece, Richmond magazine intern Dionna Cheatham, is junior politics and opinions editor for Randolph-Macon College's student newspaper, the Yellow Jacket. She observed last night's debate at the campus, and gives her take on how it was received by students.
The debate between Randolph-Macon College professors David Brat and Jack Trammell sparked an interesting combination of amusement, annoyance, and curiosity among R-MC students. In between the predictable statements of support for their chosen candidate or disparaging remarks against the rival, students had some specific reactions to the candidates’ rhetoric.
Brat reminded the audience many times that he was an economist, saying “send an economist to Washington” or variations therein. He also harped on the failings of Obamacare and the Obama administration in general, and went over his time nearly every question, which prompted giggles and annoyed sighs from student members of the audience. Brat also was seen as often using hot-button words like “Obamacare” — a frequent target for Republican criticism — when responding to questions. Trammell relied heavily on anecdotes to get his point across, and this tendency was mocked by students as well. Brat also seemed to generalize a lot, insisting that an enhanced free-market economy would solve many national problems, but students were skeptical. Trammell got flak for not appearing to know much about labor force participation, and for being too moderate and therefore not Democratic enough. Not surprisingly, many turned the candidates’ “themes” of the night into joking reasons why one of them should not be voted into office. Eventually some students became equally peeved with both candidates.
Brat’s closing statement, “if you want the American dream, vote for me next Tuesday,” sparked questions of what was meant by the “American dream.” No one seemed to have an answer. Not surprisingly, Trammell’s position on student loan debt — that more should be done to alleviate it — got an overall positive reaction from R-MC's students. So did College President Robert Lindgren’s comment that he did not want to see either candidate return, “but we will welcome one of you back with open arms.”
A poll conducted at the post-debate town hall determined that while slightly more attendees were pro-Brat before the debate, more were pro-Trammell afterward. A greater number of town hall attendees also thought that Trammell “won” the debate. At the town hall, moderators (R-MC’s political science professors along with WRIC-ABC8’s Juan Conde) answered questions posed by the audience. Brat’s repetition of his credentials was one of the first topics discussed. As one student asked how the panel felt about this tactic, she said she “found it kind of annoying after the first seven times.” Another student disagreed, saying “I found it helpful. I didn’t find it annoying.”
Other topics discussed included whether Trammell’s “personal approach” would be helpful or not, whether Brat’s criticisms of President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State (and likely presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton were valid or even relevant, and how the candidates’ positions on human rights might affect their chances of winning. The questions overall posed by students were thoughtful and intelligent, while still hinting at parts of the debate they may have found amusing or annoying. Notably, the entire discussion was incredibly civil and calm, causing Conde to remark “This, my friends, is how democracy is supposed to work.”