The fifth annual Carolina Clash — a debate between representatives of College Democrats, College Libertarians and College Republicans — saw no yelling, storming out or audience outrage, in stark contrast to the 2016 event. One of the moderators, graduate student Alec Cobham, said the debaters seemed more concerned with finding common ground than actually winning the debate.
"Their conduct gave me hope because I think their conduct was far superior to that of our elected officials," said third-year economics student Eric Baxley, who has attended the past three Clashes.
One topic that perked up the crowd almost an hour into the event was gun control. The debaters delivered — Christian Trimarchi of the Libertarians said that the 2016 armed occupation in Oregon was just "dudes being dudes." Democrat Ethan Magnuson equated guns at the time of the constitution to Tomahawk missiles now. Republican Brooks Mihalek, responding to a Democrat claim that elections serve as an avenue for government overthrow, brought up that Hitler was elected.
That prompted Cobham to ask that the discussion "steer clear of Nazis if that's alright."
But on the whole, even current hot topics like confederate statues on the State House grounds and race relations failed to elicit strong disagreement. Some of the most common three words were "We agree with ..."
They all agreed that South Carolina roads and schools are terrible. Yes, we put too many people in jail. A question on sexual assault in the military drew almost indistinguishable answers.
College Republicans toed the traditional party line on most topics, from school vouchers to leaving marijuana legislation up to the states. Several times when the Democrats and Libertarians were devolving into tangential arguments, such as the differences between economic and military global power, Mihalek and other Republican representative Robert Cathcart III simply stayed out of it. They earned the most crowd support when arguing for less restrictions in primary and secondary education.
"Parents and teachers should be allowed to make more decisions for their children than the federal government," Cathcart said.
College Libertarians' solution to everything seemed to be privatization, at some points drawing laughs from the audience. When asked how he would go about privatizing all roads into toll roads, Bryce Wilson said he'd "start with the smaller ones." The Libertarians also struggled sometimes to bring up accurate evidence, but maintained a strong emphasis on personal liberty and individual freedoms throughout.
Magnuson and Lauryn Workman for the College Democrats demonstrated a deep understanding of foreign policy with discussions about North Korea and foreign military involvement. Magnuson got the most speaking time out of all six debaters, often getting animated when speaking about state department staffing. Workman, when the Libertarians said they would only pay taxes for something that directly benefits them, asked, "So what you're saying is the government shouldn't help people?"
President Donald Trump was largely left out of the debate. He was only mentioned by name three times, one of which was Mihalek saying, "We're not here to defend Donald Trump." Cathcart said he was pleased to have a discussion about policy instead of politicians. The Democrats didn't use Trump to needle the Republicans, surprising some audience members.
"I can understand maybe why Republicans wouldn't want to bring him up that much, but I was a little surprised the Democrats took a total pass," audience member Sam Hogan said, a fourth-year political science student.
And at the end of the day, no one was crowned the winner. The moderators, one chosen by each club, scored the two parties they didn't represent. But the Libertarian moderator left halfway through, so it's impossible to select a winner, the remaining moderators said. Cobham and College Democrats president Evan Dodge said they were happy overall with the debate.
"Our current political environment is extremely divisive and extremely toxic, and I admire the fact that they were all trying to reach a middle ground," Cobham said. But at the same time, "Our job as moderators was to remind them that, hey this is about a debate, this is about winning."