Alumni make mark on conventions

by Parker Richards | 7/28/16 6:59pm

Two Dartmouth alumni spoke at the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention over the past two weeks, delivering a variety of remarks to audiences in Cleveland and Philadelphia respectively.

Former California Republican Party vice chair Harmeet Dhillon ’89 and talk radio host Laura Ingraham ’85 spoke at the Republican Convention last week while New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ’88 and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ’71 spoke at the Democratic Convention this week.

Dhillon delivered an invocation for the RNC’s second day, a prayer she sang in Punjabi, then translated into English.

“Republicans love people of all faiths who actively participate. Faith is not a barrier to participating in the party,” Dhillon said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

The Republican Party is concerned with illegal immigration but wants to welcome legal immigrants like Dhillon herself, she said.

“There has been no discussion of stopping or somehow delegitimizing legal immigration into this country,” she said. “I’m a legal immigrant and I’ve always felt 100 percent welcomed in the party.”

Dhillon stepped down from her post as vice chair of the Republican Party in California following the convention to fill the role of representative to the Republican National Committee instead, she said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan led the roll call after her invocation, so Dhillon read an edited version of the prayer rather than its full, roughly five-minute version, she said.

Ingraham’s speech raised questions over a gesture, some called a Nazi salute, she made at a projection of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s face. Many commentators have criticized the outcry at the gesture, which is now widely believed to have been unintentional.

Ingraham’s office did not return repeated requests seeking comment.

“I think she has a terrific career as a political commentator and thought leader in the conservative movement,” Dhillon said of Ingraham, who she considers a friend.

Government professor Linda Fowler said she was not surprised that Ingraham offered a full-throated endorsement of Trump, as she had been an early supporter of the Republican nominee. She said she had been disappointed by a talk Ingraham gave at the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth in the past, however.

Ingraham — who has been a proponent of conservative causes since her time at the College, where she edited The Dartmouth Review — called for party unity behind Trump, dismissing his remaining critics and defeated primary opponents as “boys with wounded feelings and bruised egos.”

“To all my friends up there in the press, you all know why in your heart Donald Trump won the Republican nomination,” Ingraham said in remarks last Wednesday night. “You know why he won it? Because he dared to call out the phonies, the frauds and the corruption that has gone unexposed and uncovered for too long.”

Ingraham also called the Democratic nomination of Hillary Clinton “some cruel joke,” comparing it to “skinny jeans on men or man buns.”

Dhillon said her time at Dartmouth — where she was also an editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth Review — was formative for her conservative values. At the College, she chaired a student group backing former U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp’s 1988 presidential campaign and was a vocal advocate for free speech rights on campus.

“It was really The Dartmouth Review involvement that has given me the springboard into my political career,” Dhillon said. “I would not be on that stage if it were not for the opportunity for spirited intellectual debate I had at Dartmouth.”

In Philadelphia, Gillibrand delivered a major speech on Monday in which she highlighted Clinton’s commitment to American families and her support for paid family leave. Other key Democratic figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders, First Lady Michelle Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren also spoke on Monday night.

“Today, our policies are stuck in the Mad Men era. We are the only industrialized nation that doesn’t guarantee workers paid family leave,” Gillibrand said Monday night. “Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth. Most parents work outside the home, yet childcare can cost as much as college tuition.”

She added that Clinton “gets it” and that, for her, paid family leave is a “core value.” Family-friendly policies like paid family leave have been a major goal of progressive Democrats for many years, making Gillibrand’s speech a key component in a night dedicated to unifying the Democratic Party after a contentious primary between Clinton and Sanders.

A spokesman for Gillibrand declined to comment beyond citing the senator’s speech.

During his DNC speech, Wolf criticized Trump’s treatment of small businesses and pregnant female employees in his speech last night.

A spokesman for Wolf did not return requests for comment.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman ’78 was a key force in getting the Republican Convention held in Cleveland this year, but some media outlets questioned whether the senator would attend. Many Republican lawmakers in tough reelection campaigns, like Portman, have distanced themselves from the nominee.

Kevin Smith, a spokesperson for Portman, said Portman attended all four days of the RNC, participating in interviews and speaking with delegates on the convention floor.

Smith wrote that Portman was “very pleased” with the convention and the hosting of Cleveland and confirmed that Portman still believes the nomination of Trump would be “positive in the end” for his campaign, a remark the senator made after endorsing Trump in May.

Dhillon said she was honored to have been asked to participate in the convention and share her faith. The event was “a positive message about the inclusiveness of the United States political process” for all, she said.

Fowler was critical of the Republican Convention.

“There wasn’t an agenda in the Republican Convention. It was really about Trump and Trump’s family,” she said.

In general, conventions have moved from having a practical role as a nominating process to a largely ceremonial role of confirming the nominee as selected in primaries, she said.

“It’s basically an infomercial for the parties and a chance to remind people why they’re Republicans or why they’re Democrats,” she said.

Several members of the press covering the convention — notably CNN reporter Jake Tapper ’91 — are also Dartmouth alumni, as is the Democratic convention’s chief executive, Rev. Leah Daughtry ’84 , who held the same role in 2008.