Q&A with College Republicans chairman Daniel Bring ’21
In the past year, the College Republicans have hosted events with conservative figures such as Herman Cain, Dinesh D’Souza and David Horowitz. Protests that occurred at the latter two events have spurred discussion about the nature of free speech and what it means to be a Republican on a college campus. Daniel Bring ’21 is the chairman of Dartmouth’s College Republicans chapter, an organization he joined during his freshman fall. In the following interview, Bring addresses these speakers, as well as the evolution of the College Republicans organization on campus, the experiences of conservatives at a left-leaning school and a recent guest column in The Dartmouth by a former College Republicans treasurer arguing that the organization no longer respects open discourse.
What do you think the role of the College Republicans is on Dartmouth’s campus?
DB: I think that the first goal is of course to represent the values and the platform of the National Conference of College Republicans. But, I also believe that our purpose at Dartmouth is to provide an avenue for a right-of-center discourse that is open to people of all opinions, particularly for those opinions that would not be welcomed at the College Democrats or in some of the other political circles on campus.
Can you elaborate on what you mean by “right-of-center discourse?”
DB: Well, I think right of center — pretty broadly — would be Libertarian and Republican. I do believe Libertarians and Republicans are distinct. Centrists though, on some issues, might feel alienated from the broader cohort of students and from the College Democrats.
How has the College Republicans’ role evolved or changed over time?
DB: I think that in the grand sweep of history, with the College Republicans having been established in 1958, there have been enormous differences in terms of organizational structure and membership composition. I think there have been broader shifts, even in the last few years. When I joined, it was a much looser community, and it wasn’t where I found my closest community. Since then we have really rebounded; we have a large base. I hear stories from three or five years ago about the organization only having five active members. Now, we’ve got close to 30 very active members. That has been a definite improvement.
Dartmouth is a liberal campus, and Grafton County overwhelmingly votes for Democrats. Would you classify Republicans at Dartmouth as a sort of ideological minority, and how do you navigate that?
DB: I wouldn’t call Republicans an ideological minority. I don’t think the Republican Party is an ideology. I would say that they are certainly a minority in terms who is registered with a party. There is some exaggeration that says Dartmouth is 95 percent liberal, as conservative students are more common than that would suggest. When I’ve talked to a lot of athletes and friends in the Greek system, they all hold what I would characterize as right-of-center opinions but do not have the time to be politically active.
How was the decision made to invite Dinesh D’Souza and David Horowitz to campus, and how would you classify their representations of conservatism?
DB: There is a major distinction between the events, as they transpired, of David Horowitz and Dinesh D’Souza. I think that the issue with David Horowitz particularly was that he acquitted himself very poorly under the circumstances. He was unnecessarily inflammatory. His invitation was a decision undertaken by the executives of the College Republicans, but I think everyone would agree it was not ideal for him to behave in the way that he did. Dinesh D’Souza, I would say, is a legitimate representative of conservative opinion. Just like the David Horowitz event, there were disruptions. There were people rising in the audience, but he handled it so differently. He never got into ad hominem arguments. He sent off one witty remark that was well received by the audience, as opposed to Horowitz who just seemed like he was rather malicious at times.
Did you suspect that there would be a reaction to the Horowitz and D’Souza events because they have said inflammatory comments either on Twitter or other speaking events in the past?
DB: I think we would expect a reaction with any earnestly conservative speaker because the vocal, left-wing and Democratic student groups are going to disagree — and in many cases, quite strongly — with what conservative speakers have to say. The reaction should be a conversational challenge; it should be disputing ideas with ideas, not with silencing them, not with interrupting the event and preventing people from hearing them. That’s something they teach in kindergarten or preschool: Everyone has their turn to speak. In the case of Horowitz, it devolved into personal attacks, which was enormously regrettable. But it isn’t reasonable for us to want to bring a speaker to campus and for there to be signs saying “defund racist Republicans” and for protesters to attack the speaker’s personal life.
Why do you think the ideas of the speakers are not accepted by the larger student body?
DB: Well, I don’t think that an idea is necessarily bad just because it isn’t progressive. The idea of conservatism as expressed by the late, great Russell Kirk was that it’s a system of gradual change, not radical progress. To a lot of these students, these ideas are new. That’s why you see such a hostile reaction. I’ve talked to students who say they’ve never met a Republican until talking to me. I don’t think that just because an idea has been stated before makes it antiquated; I think the reason that a lot of students aren’t so receptive — especially on the left — is because they don’t really investigate these things on their own. They get them from the news media and from their peers.
How do the College Republicans interact with other conservative groups on campus, particularly The Dartmouth Review? Is there a fracturing within the group?
DB: I don’t want to discuss The Dartmouth Review or go into what was written about our organization in The Dartmouth because there are so many myths and so much hearsay about the College Republicans and what’s been going on in the College Republicans. I’m here to say what really is happening in our organization and what our organization stands for. I think that College Republicans is actually stronger and more cohesive than it has ever been.
How do you respond to criticism that your organization fosters unhealthy and even threatening ideology for many on campus?
DB: I think that ideology is a singular cohesive way of viewing the world and prescribing policy and making judgments about issues. That’s how I define ideology. I don’t think that our organization advances an ideology because we bring in a broad range of speakers and each speak about something different. If we were only going to bring speakers to have conversations about the most dry, or sterile economic or policy topics, then that is not going to necessarily provoke or even cultivate a productive conversation because they’re going to have a very self-selecting audience. We want people to have difficult questions. We want to encourage the community to have conversations even if they’re difficult, even if they’re serious and about personally important issues.
If you were to look into the future, what would you want the College Republicans to look like and be doing?
DB: I think that the goal is not just to have high-profile speakers that attract the most people, but to get our message and our beliefs out to the student body. We have to find a balance between someone who’s going to be the most substantive and someone who’s going to draw the biggest crowd.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.