Every Saturday in Thorne Dining Hall, the Bowdoin College Republicans meet for dinner and conversation—with a touch of politics. The club has an email list of 95 people, but attendance is usually limited to the same six or seven people each week, admitted club co-president Theo de Quillacq ’21.
The members of Bowdoin College Republicans don’t agree on everything, but finding a community of relatively like-minded individuals is still valuable for these students, de Quillacq said. Members especially appreciate the political community on a campus like Bowdoin’s that can feel overwhelmingly liberal-minded.
“We’re like a little bubble,” de Quillacq said. “It’s like, alright, you’re not exactly the same as me, but at least you’re not them.”
Nevertheless, members disagree on a range of issues, from President Donald Trump to the role of government in society.
Matthew Swiatek ’20, who has been involved in College Republicans since his sophomore year, is not a fan of Trump. He cares deeply about the environment and is planning to vote for a Democrat in November. Former mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg is his favorite candidate.
“He’s definitely the most moderate and aligns with a lot of views I have,” Swiatek said. “I think he can get stuff done.”
On the other hand, de Quillacq plans to vote for Trump in November. When asked who he hopes will win the Democratic nomination, de Quillacq was quick to respond.
“Preferably someone that would lose,” he said. “But if we’re talking about if I had to have a Democrat in the White House, like which one it would be, I’d probably go with [former New York City mayor Michael] Bloomberg.”
Other right-leaning students feel the club doesn’t represent them at all. For example, Jon Miller ’23 is on the email list for the College Republicans, but that’s pretty much the extent of his involvement.
“I’m a member of the Libertarian Party, so there just isn’t anything for that here,” Miller said. “I’m a little bit stranded in terms of community at Bowdoin.”
Miller identifies as right-wing but disapproves of the Republican Party in its current form. He dislikes Trump and isn’t entirely sure who he’ll vote for in November, noting that the Libertarian Party won’t choose a nominee until May.
“If I were forced to choose, I’d probably vote for any of the current Democratic candidates except for [Sen.] Bernie [Sanders] and [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren,” Miller said.
Despite their different political perspectives, Miller and de Quillacq both said they are frustrated with common stereotypes about right-wing beliefs at Bowdoin and beyond.
“I’m not religious. I’m not anti-abortion. I used to be a Democrat; I’m not crazy or anything,” de Quillacq said. “I’ve seen far-right people, and it kind of just makes me chuckle. I’m not actually far-right even though people like to paint me as that. I’m actually pretty moderate.”
Club members said that more exposure to conservative ideas could help combat the stereotypes.
“I think people are not as liberal as people think,” Swiatek said. “I think we just need more people to be speaking out about these moderate to conservative viewpoints.”
Bowdoin College Republicans has a small budget for speakers, which they have used in the past to bring Republicans to campus. For example, the club recently hosted Jay Allen, a Republican running for Congress in Maine’s First District. But, according to de Quillacq, the group’s budget is not big enough to bring more mainstream conservative speakers to campus.
“It’d be cool if [President Clayton Rose] or someone put in the time and the money to actually try to open up conversation with campus,” said de Quillacq. “I don’t want to make people mad, but I want there to be a different perspective here.”
On the other hand, Miller expressed satisfaction with the number of conservative speakers welcomed to campus, pointing to the Joseph McKeen Visiting Fellow Arthur Brooks, the former president of the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, as an example.
“Bowdoin specifically is, I think, really good about free speech. And I think most students here are for the most part willing to converse,” Miller said.
In de Quillacq’s opinion, students can always do more to attempt to understand the perspectives of conservative students on campus.
“I think when you’re being educated, it’s important to, instead of doubling down, really learn the other side,” de Quillacq said. “If you want to be a well-rounded person, you can go three times in on your own ideology, but if you really want to expand your mind, you have to see the other side. I do it all the time because my professors are liberal. And it’s sad that other people don’t get that.”