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The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

Bishop’s Hosts Its First Mock Republican Debate

Disclaimer: The students who participated are not necessarily Republican, and do not necessarily support the politician they represented or agree with their ideals and values
Sydney Chan (’24)
As a takeaway from the debate, History Teacher and Head Coach of Speech and Debate Mr. Matthew Valji said, “I hope they are excited and curious about the presidential election and people don’t fall into the cynical apathy that many of us teenagers and adults alike tend to fall into in presidential election years.” In the photo from left to right are Naveen Hernandez (‘26), Tyler Chang (‘26), Jonas Pfefferman (‘24), Dylan Navarrete (‘24), Ben Hollingshead (‘24), Gerard Blake (‘24), and David Lai (‘25).

“I wanted to answer all the questions I could, ” said Jonas Pfefferman (‘24), who represented American entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, in the Bishop’s mock republican debate that took place on October 19th, 2023.

Two seniors, Dylan Navarette (‘24) and Jonas, took inspiration from the two real republican debates that took place on August 23rd, 2023, and September 27th, 2023. History Teacher and Head Coach of Speech and Debate Mr. Matthew Valji’s job as moderator was to ask challenging questions, guide the debate, moderate the clashes, and make sure that students didn’t go over time. 

In the hour-long mock debate, the debaters discussed education, the Ukraine-Russia and Israel-Hamas conflicts, China, inflation, economics, crime, and more. Gerard Blake (‘24), who played former Vice President Mike Pence, commented, “We got to embody different candidates, see a lot of different views, and act like how the actual debates [would] go, which are usually people yelling at each other.” 

Gerard said, “It was pretty realistic. Some people took some liberties with their characters. Mike Pence isn’t that energetic though I did embody his viewpoints and what he wants to do.” Gerard later explained, “I just had more energy and my justification was that since Donald Trump was there, he might be more aggressive since he hates that guy personally.” 

Dylan said that Jerry Huber (‘24), who represented Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, embodied his personality well as he “ killed [it] as Asa Hutchinson with a Southern accent prepared.”

Dylan, who represented Former President Donald Trump, also said, “I was having so much fun just getting up and saying random stuff that I ordinarily wouldn’t say in order to shut down other people.” Before the debate, Dylan asked Mr. Valji how much improvisation and spontaneous comments he could say and Mr. Valji warned Dylan that he might have to cut him off. Dylan said, “I started to press it as much as I could, like what Donald Trump would do.”

Adding on from a spectator’s perspective, William Guo (‘24) said, “It was an interesting experience since I am someone who likes political science and know[s] stuff [about it]. Seeing my friends arguing their positions was very entertaining.” 

After listening closely to everyone’s speeches and actions, Mr. Valji said his favorite moments were “the unscripted exchanges between some of the individual students where they were trying to rev each other up or talk over each other. Those very human moments are reflective of actual political debates.” 

At one point, Dylan and Jonas challenged Former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie represented by Tyler Chang (‘26) to explain the economic decline Governor Christie left in New Jersey after finishing his term as Governor. Jonas asked me (representing Governor of North Dakota Doug Burgum) about corn in North Dakota. Everyone shouted at Gerard for being too liberal at times while acting as Mr. Pence.

Mr. Valji added, “They are not just speeches after speeches, but they are actual exchanges between different individuals and [can] be a little rough and ready and that’s a true reflection of debate and gets more people excited to watch them.” 

As the moderator and a teacher, Mr. Valji said, “Each of the candidates prepared well for the debate, they were able to answer questions on a wide variety of issues: social issues, the economy, foreign policy, and the U.S. government.” He added that “the candidates were very patient when they weren’t called upon, but still were really fiery and passionate.” 

In between these moments of passion and fire were moments of laughter. Throughout the debate, candidates also invented funny nicknames: Chris Kripsy instead of Chris Christie and Donald Duck instead of Donald Trump. Moreover, when Gerard himself brought up Reaganism and Reaganomics and said that Ronald Reagan was the best president the U.S. has ever had in the 20th century, it made the audience laugh. 

Tyler also added, “The funniest part of the debate was Dylan’s constant provocation of other candidates. We constantly exchanged funny insults, and whenever I looked at him we would almost start laughing.” Gerard mentioned that Dylan also said, “I made you DeSantis, I made you Pence, you were nothing without me” during the debate, which Gerard said was “super realistic and funny.”

Jonas mentioned that his favorite moment of the debate was when Tyler couldn’t hold his laughter back. Dylan said he enjoyed it when he and Jonas high-fived each other for successfully annoying other students. 

Summing up previous comments about favorite moments, William said, “I loved Ben Hollingshead (‘24) who played Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida’s opening speech, Dylan’s trump vibe [was] very good, and Gerard he was just like in character since he is that sort of guy and he did a very good job as Mike Pence.” 

Another star of the debate was Mr. Valji, who was praised by William, Gerard, Dylan, and Jonas as a perfect moderator. Mr. Valji recalled, “It was an enjoyable experience asking them tough questions. They really got into their characters and understood the positions of their characters, and were able to advocate for those candidates effectively in a meaningful way even if they personally didn’t agree with their candidates’ ideals. They gave it their best shot.”

In regards to the bickering and clashes, Mr. Valji said that it was “great, we cut it off when it needed to be cut.”

With this event being the first of such kind at Bishop’s, both Dylan and Jonas said that it was very chaotic. They prepared a handout for spectators explaining ways to get involved in elections that they had to print last minute. They also had to make sure that all participating students showed up and that the table where the participants sat looked nice. However, in the end, everything ran smoothly during the debate.

Adding on, Mr. Valji said, “They [Dylan and Jonas] seemed really engaged and interested in the civic process, curious about the positions of the candidates, and wanted to share with their friends and classmates more of their segment of politics. They asked me to consult with them on how to do this.”

Considering future Mock Political Debates, Mr. Valji said, “We can think about soliciting questions from other students or from members of the audience. We could do it for both political parties next time there is a democratic debate.” Jonas noted, “We should’ve done more marketing beforehand. We had a great turnout, better than expected, but I would [have] liked more people to turn up.” Jonas estimated that around 30 students and faculty showed up.

Mr. Valji supported Dylan and Jonas in hosting this debate because he wanted to engage young people. He said, “People like to think about politics and sometimes talk about it but getting students to actually vote or look up the positions of different candidates or do their research is a tall order.” Expanding on this, Mr. Valji said he wanted to “help them be more knowledgeable about the actual positions of the candidates and not just rely upon rumor, speculation, and reputation.”

Furthermore, Tyler noted, “ I think it definitely brought the various Republican primary candidates’ views and beliefs to light.”  In the end, Tyler reflected, “I would definitely participate [again]! It was not only fun, but it also helped me better understand various candidates’ viewpoints. Again, this was super educational to not only the spectators but also the participants.

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About the Contributor
David Lai, Staff Writer
David Lai, the only returning staff writer, is a junior who loves playing soccer. No matter if he sleeps one hour or 10 hours, he always has a full tank of energy.  He loves MUN, speech and debate, and knows how to speak four languages. Whether he is hanging out with friends, talking to his siblings, doing homework, playing video games or soccer, David is always energetic. He loves writing about sports, politics, MUN, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and more. 

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