Verbum Ultimum: They Aren’t Bringing Their Best

The College Republicans’ choice of speakers this weekend is contrary to the group’s commitment to productive discourse and signals they have learned nothing from the mistakes of past leadership.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/22/21 4:00am

by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

On Oct. 11, WMUR broke the news that the Dartmouth College Republicans would be inviting first-term U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a 26-year-old Republican from North Carolina, to sit on a panel titled “The Future of the Republican Party” on Oct. 24, this Sunday. Cawthorn will attend alongside NH-1 congressional candidate and former Trump administration assistant press secretary Karoline Leavitt and former Trump campaign strategist Alex Bruesewitz. 

This is the first major in-person event hosted by the College Republicans since February 2020, when the group’s leadership resigned en masse after falsely claiming that an event featuring then-Senate candidate Corky Messner was canceled due to “a possible violent response by left-wing campus activists.” In reality, the decision was made because the club failed to procure security for the event in what the group’s former leadership later admitted in an op-ed was “poor planning and a lack of foresight.”

In the guest column, the College Republicans’ former leadership apologized for fostering a “purely oppositional” organization that under their leadership, they wrote, had become dedicated to provoking the “radical left” and “owning the libs” rather than promoting productive discourse. With their resignation, they added, they aimed to “break the cycle… of increasingly hostile and alienating provocations and interactions” and hoped that “a more respectful and engaged College Republicans would emerge.”

Their hopes seem to have been in vain. By inviting Cawthorn a year and a half later, the group appears to have reverted to the same thoughtless and sensational tactics that initially led to their relative disappearance from campus life.

The invitation of speakers such as Cawthorn, a man who routinely attacks experts and organizations that seek truth — the news media, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nonpartisan election administrators — and who unabashedly uses deception, lies, and racial dog-whistles for his own political gain, is counterproductive to the College Republicans’ claimed goal of promoting open discourse. During his campaign, the congressman habitually and brazenly lied about his background to appeal to voters — in one campaign ad going so far as to lie about the details of the car accident that left him paralyzed. His campaign website also attacked New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is Black, for supposedly wanting to “ruin” white men. What’s more, Cawthorn has faced several accusations of sexual misconduct from former classmates — allegations backed by a letter signed by over 150 of Cawthorn’s former peers at Patrick Henry College. 

As a congressman, Cawthorn has continued his pattern of dishonesty and misconduct. Though his lies span many issue areas, from vaccine misinformation to transphobia, perhaps his most damaging statements target democracy itself. In the months and weeks following the November 2020 election, he promoted the baseless and absurd idea that the election was “stolen.” Cawthorn was present at the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where he condemned Republicans in Congress for “hiding and not fighting.” Hours later, the Capitol was overrun by the very mob Cawthorn was speaking to, having been spurred by rhetoric like his and then-President Donald Trump’s. Since then, he has warned that there may be “bloodshed” over future elections that are “rigged” while at the same time minimizing his role in the events of Jan. 6. Unlike the average American citizen, his words carry great political weight and inspire real-world consequences. His dishonesty and apparent willingness to entertain violence if his party loses an election should be disqualifying for any reasonable conservative campus group.

Ultimately, if this is the person that the College Republicans wish to bring to campus and promote as the future of their party, that is their prerogative. The majority of this Editorial Board opposes any attempts by the College or other actors to prevent Cawthorn from speaking.  However, Cawthorn’s record should speak for itself. By inviting him as a representative to speak about the “future of the Republican Party,” the College Republicans appear to be voicing their approval of his twisted and authoritarian vision. 

The other panelists aren’t much better. Leavitt, like Cawthorn, has called for audits of the election and spread lies about fraud. Bruesewitz has also endorsed claims of election fraud, threatening the day before the Jan. 6 insurrection to fund efforts to oust any congressional Republicans unopposed to Biden’s inauguration and helping lead the conspiratorial “#StopTheSteal” effort. 

If these panelists are truly the future of the Republican Party, as the banners posted around campus by the College Republicans would have community members believe, then that future is a bleak one for productive discourse and the perseverance of truth. Each of these politicians and political actors has endorsed harmful conspiracies and lied to the public, unaware of or unbothered by the consequences. They are not fair-minded purveyors of conservative values. They are not thoughtful innovators who can help solve society’s problems. A college campus should be a place for open discourse, and bringing politicians from both sides of the aisle is conducive to that goal. However, bringing politicians who reject facts for political gain is irresponsible and contradictory to that goal. 

Once again, none of this is to say that the College Republicans should not have the right to invite whomever they please. Every student organization should, within reason, enjoy full autonomy in deciding what kind of discourse they want to bring to campus, free of any intervention from the College or any threat of violence. However, the speakers a group brings to campus reflect on that group. If the College Republicans really wish to engage in levelheaded discourse about the future of the party, we urge them to pick speakers who at least make a habit of telling the truth.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.