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The Dartmouth
February 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Menning: The Primary Matters For Dartmouth and Beyond

In the upcoming primary, Dartmouth students can help Republicans embrace responsible positions on debt, international leadership and climate change.

The New Hampshire primary could be a turning point for the outcome of the Republican presidential nomination. While most commentators recognize that former President Donald Trump is the likely candidate to secure the party’s nomination, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has a real chance at winning New Hampshire. With a lower-stakes Democratic primary and undeclared voters eligible to participate, chances are higher that Haley will upset Trump. While the odds are long, a strong showing in New Hampshire would help Haley win the nomination.

Even before former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropped out of the race, the most recent CNN and University of New Hampshire poll found that Trump was only ahead of Haley by single-digits, and she has momentum to make up the difference. Between November and January, Haley’s support among likely New Hampshire primary voters increased by 12 percentage points in CNN/UNH polls. With help from New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s enthusiastic endorsement, alongside most of Christie’s former supporters (about 12% of the primary electorate) indicating support for Haley, the former ambassador and her former boss are likely tied. 

Regardless of political affiliation, students shouldn’t be apathetic about the result of the Republican primary. This primary offers an opportunity for Republicans to embrace solutions to issues that will substantially affect the lives of Gen Z — particularly debt, international leadership and climate change.

If trends continue, interest on the national debt will cost more than the defense budget by 2028. In just 25 years — when current Dartmouth students will be in their forties — interest on this debt will be the single largest line item in the federal budget. Despite these numbers, Republicans have largely abandoned their debt hawkishness. While the national debt increased $7.8 trillion under Trump, Haley is the only major candidate who has committed to implementing cost-cutting reforms for social security, the single largest federal budget item. 

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is considering increasing social security costs. U.S. debt could hamstring the American economy for key decades of current Dartmouth students’ adult lives — those when we’ll be raising children, assuming leadership positions and investing for retirement. We should vote with debt on the top of our minds.

As we’ve seen in the past three years, international conflicts are reshaping the world stage. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chinese aggression towards Taiwan and Iran-backed terrorist groups’ aggression in the Middle East — from Hamas to Hezbollah to the Houthis — have clarified new axes of alliance between anti-Western actors and the U.S. and its allies. These events have followed bipartisan trends towards isolationism, from Trump’s Syria military withdrawal to Biden abandoning Afghanistan. 

Concerning international leadership, Haley again stands alone. In the face of increasing populist animosity towards military support for Ukraine, Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have expressed skepticism towards current aid policies. Haley is the only major candidate to outline the importance of standing up to Russia. She has correctly identified that abandoning the Ukrainians would encourage Russian aggression against NATO treaty allies. In such a scenario, the U.S. would be treaty-bound to defend our European allies, bringing American soldiers into the war. Emboldened adversaries could have severe consequences down the line for Gen Z. To avoid war, we need a president to project American strength. 

Dartmouth students — and Gen Z broadly — will also bear the brunt of climate change consequences. Trump still believes that climate change is a “hoax,” and when asked on the first debate stage, DeSantis avoided discussing climate change altogether. At the first Republican/GOP debate, Haley was alone in explicitly stating that climate change is real, and that the U.S. should adopt emission-reducing policy, becoming the first Republican candidate to ever do so on a presidential debate stage. 

The U.S. has an opportunity to adopt energy and climate policy that removes red tape to accelerate clean energy resource development. While Congress made historic climate investments under Biden, clean energy projects have been stymied by years-long permitting processes. With the right leadership, Republicans can lead climate by removing government barriers to energy development. Further, Republicans can campaign on the idea that cleaner American energy resources will lead to global emissions reductions. Students have an opportunity to steer Republicans away from the denialism of the Trump era.

Dartmouth students could be a substantial force in the 2024 GOP primary, and they should keep these issues in mind when deciding whether to vote and how to vote. Of course, students will also need to decide where to vote.

In an October 2022 piece titled “This November, Vote at Home,” I challenged predominant campus narratives about the importance of voting in New Hampshire. I argued that local connections should drive students’ voting decisions, outlining a position that strongly encouraged students to vote in their home state. That absolutist suggestion was shortsighted. 

The principles I laid out in 2022 failed to consider the true gravity of some national issues (like debt, international conflict and climate change, as outlined above) and the blurred nature of residency that could legitimately influence the voting decisions of many Dartmouth students. A combination of considerations, including the relevant electoral issues, local connections and the offices in question should drive students’ voting decisions.

Regardless of where students vote, their choice matters in the 2024 Republican primary. In New Hampshire, Dartmouth students could help swing the state to Haley. However, while momentum matters, 97.5% of the GOP delegates are awarded after the New Hampshire primary. Primary participation across the nation is important. 

When deciding who to vote for, Dartmouth students should prioritize issues that are critical for their future. Progressive, moderate, conservative or other, students’ choices should help drive Republicans towards real conservative solutions to problems that will face us all: debt, international conflict and climate change. Until other Republicans step up on these issues, Nikki Haley stands alone. To me, the choice is clear.

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.