I have always been passionate about politics and economics. This summer, I had the unique privilege of attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, which was provided by Connecticut College. I was first approached by my government professor Dorothy James and was honored when I was awarded the opportunity to attend one of the conventions. Although the experience of the convention itself has furthered my interest in the political process, I was also able to take part in a lecture and academic seminar through the Washington Center on topics surrounding political parties, campaigns and elections from distinguished faculty in the field. This education opportunity has helped to shape my outlook on our current election cycle and coursework for the fall semester, and will provide me with a new perspective as I continue my studies on political science and economics.
During my time at the convention I was able to work with the Illinois State Republican Party through an internship with the Illinois State Delegation. During this time I worked closely with Illinois State Republicans and the delegates attending the convention. What was striking about this experience was the dissonance between the views of the State Republicans and the delegates they were hosting on the Republican nominee. This past primary election, Illinois voted for Donald Trump and the delegates represented at the convention were bound to Mr. Trump. A majority of the Trump delegates expressed a discontent with the current Republican establishment in Washington and felt that an outsider was needed to fix the problems facing the nation.
What was interesting to me was the fact that the Republican delegates—many of whom identified as conservatives—were willing to turn to an authoritarian figure, even if that included compromising principle. As a conservative myself, this was difficult to comprehend. However, I was not alone in this opinion. One of the most controversial aspects of this convention was over the rules surrounding the delegates and if they should be bound by the results of their state’s primary or caucus, even if they could not in good conscious vote for Mr. Trump. This erupted into a debate on the floor of the convention in which, to preserve party unity, the chair of the Republican Convention denied a roll call vote on this issue. In my experience, there currently seems to be a generational gap amongst conservatives in which older conservatives feel that this is the last stand against the left in order to preserve not only our country’s values but our Constitutional framework. The younger generation of conservatives, however, feel as though the nomination of such a figure as Donald Trump, who is by no means conservative, will tarnish the conservative Republican brand beyond recovery.
This division was most clearly depicted in one of the most memorable and controversial moments at this historic convention: the choice by Sen. Ted Cruz to not officially endorse Donald Trump for President. I was fortunate enough to listen to Sen. Cruz's speech from the convention floor and experience the negative reaction from the delegates in what was a passionate call for conservative principles from Sen. Cruz.
Although this experience in its academic sense was profound, in a more personal sense it was disheartening. As a self-identified conservative, I feel that my party has compromised principle in the name of expediency and victory, and in the end we will end up with neither. I was very fortunate to have attended the RNC and been given the opportunity to learn more about the American Political process. I look forward to sharing this experience this fall and reflecting on this unique privilege as I further my studies in this discipline.