It is widely accepted that the political climate of Swarthmore College is liberal, the assumption being that most students identify themselves as Democrats. Indeed, this is reflected in many opinionated articles published on the topic, for example Gloria Kim ’18 in her article. Gloria Kim ’18 author of “Life as a Conservative at a Liberal College”, had come to Swarthmore and expressed her expectations upon arriving for her first semester.
“When I finally decided to attend Swarthmore College, a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, my friends and family were scared that I would become one of those liberals and proceeded to gift me with elephant-patterned pillows and other dorm decorations as relics of my political standing. After all, they knew Swarthmore as the school with crazy liberal students,” said Kim.
There is, however, an anomaly to this opinion with the formation of the Swarthmore Conservative Society. While an official name change occurred in 2005 in which the club went from the Swarthmore College Republicans to the Swarthmore Conservative Society, the student organization from its founding strived to provide a space to have campus discourse about conservative and libertarian ideas.
Patrick Holland ’17, president of the Swarthmore Conservative Society, affirmed the healthy status of the group.
“We’ve got probably around 15 members, about 90 people in our Facebook group … We host weekly meetings and have a pretty good turnout,” said Holland. “I’d say we’re having a good semester so far.”
The group attracted a lot of attention in September following their public endorsement of presidential candidate Gary Johnson. In a op-ed article published by The Daily Gazette, the Swarthmore Conservative Society effectively denounced both Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. In the same article, they made the case for Johnson, a member of the Libertarian Party.
“The Swarthmore Conservative Society is planning to campaign for former governors Gary Johnson of New Mexico and Bill Weld of Massachusetts [Johnson’s vice presidential candidate] …We are confident in our belief that the Johnson-Weld ticket is far and away the best choice for President in this election cycle. Even though we have our differences, Johnson and Weld agree with us on the most important issues … They support free markets, and they are fiscally responsible and socially tolerant, the perfect combination of policies for the average rightward-leaning college student.”
Notably, Holland did mention that the Swarthmore Conservative Society is not a “super political group,” making the distinction that they will advocate for a candidate but do not officially campaign for them.
The organization’s president pointed out that the reason for the endorsement was not necessarily because they believed Johnson would actually win. It was done more so as a condemnation of the extreme polarization promoted by the two major party candidates. To that point, the feelings of many voters are that third party options are not feasible because somehow voting third party is, in the words of an op-ed published by the New York Times, “throwing one’s vote away,” because the candidate does not have an actual chance of winning. A member of the class of 2020, who identifies as a conservative but is not affiliated with the society, does not see the logic in this way of thinking. The Swarthmore Conservative Society maintained that they were justified in their reasoning.
“Our vote is a reflection of our judgment. We would be wrong to hold our tongues and endorse a ticket that we do not believe in,” the Society writes. “Voting third party is one of the best ways to keep the two major parties accountable for their actions when both of them clearly do not represent the will of the American people.”
Since the endorsement, however, Johnson has made many public blunders, most notably appearing to lack knowledge of the humanitarian crisis centered in Aleppo, Syria. He has also gone down in national poll. According to polls by Real Clear Politics, as of Oct. 17, Johnson has a 6.4 percent chance at winning the election, down 4 percent from the time of his endorsement by the organization.
While Holland maintains that there is still support of the candidate within the club and that the endorsement still stands in light of these issues, other members are not as committed to backing him. Navid Kiassat ’20, an active member of the club, will likely not be casting his vote for Gary Johnson.
“Up until recently, I was planning to vote for Gary Johnson, and while I still maintain that a third party vote in and of itself is not immoral, some of Johnson’s recent statements on foreign policies has made me reevaluate my position. I’ll probably be voting for Hillary Clinton,” said Kiassat.
That being said, Holland expressed that it is not uncommon for individual club members to support candidates that differ from the club’s endorsement. In fact, opposing viewpoints are a welcome topic of discussion.
“We have members of our society who support, basically, all candidates: Johnson, Clinton, even a few people who support Trump, and plenty of people who aren’t voting at all,” he stated. “We discuss this sort of thing all the time. I don’t think anyone’s really been convinced, and we don’t coerce anyone into voting or not voting.”
With the presentation of the college as an incubator for liberal thinking, conservatives on campus have broad opinions about sharing their political standing. Freshman with no affiliation to the Swarthmore Conservative Society, they are mainly wary of the possibility of conflict.
“Although I do have a differing opinion from most people on campus, I’m not one for political debate and argument. I sometimes feel like I should not say anything for fear of being a minority opinion.”
Alternatively, Gilbert Guerra ’19, a member of the organization, appreciates the challenge and attributes his views to his background.
“I’m used to being the token conservative or token Hispanic no matter where I grew up, and that was in rural Mississippi where I was the only Mexican person in the entire school … and you know, I don’t really mind being the token conservative, I don’t mind being the opposing force that says, ‘Hey, wait, there’s another way of doing this.’ I like being able to show that conservatives aren’t crazy, terrible people,” said Guerra.
The future of American conservatism is up for debate amongst campus conservatives regardless of their affiliation with the club. However, everyone is in agreement that necessary changes should be made in order to ensure its sustainability in the future.
Where Holland had said plainly, “We need more Paul Ryans and fewer Donald Trumps,” Kiassat gave a more in depth explanation of his rationale.
“I definitely think it’s viable because the conservative message is one that would resonate with minority groups, and it is a good one. I think conservatism, at its core, is not about never changing but about having a certain humility when doing so.” He continues, “In terms of the future of the GOP, I have no idea, but with the Trump candidacy, it’s going to cause some self reflection, and I can only hope it’ll prompt the GOP to do a deep autopsy of itself. They did one after 2012 and came to many conclusions, one of them being that they need to appeal to Hispanic voters, and they didn’t follow through on their own recommendations. For sure, though, the GOP needs to get better at branding their message.”
Guerra, in speaking about the current state of conservatives, went about it comically.
“They’re probably pouring Bailey’s into their cereal,” Guerra said when speaking about the conservatives amongst the organization’s ranks.
All in all, campus conservatives wish to send across this message: be not afraid. Instead, they are of the opinion that, in true Swarthmore fashion, one should look to embrace alternative viewpoints and participate in political discourse in order to see the merit of conservatism.