New Insight on Grand Old Party

With the 2016 presidential primaries taking place and presidential elections drawing ever nearer, many are intrigued, if not excited, to see how everything will turn out. 

On Feb. 10, conservative political analyst Henry Olsen came to speak and offer some insights on the presidential campaign at Pomona College’s Rose Hills Theater. Olsen is currently a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the former vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, a leading conservative think tank. He recently published a book, Four Faces of the Republican Party: The Fight for the 2016 Presidential Nomination, and is working on a book that will tackle Ronald Reagan’s legacy for the Republican Party.

The past two weeks have been pivotal in what Olsen calls “the most interesting election of my lifetime.” He disagrees with the assertion that the GOP race is split between the establishment candidate and the anti-establishment candidate. He believes that this model is simply a way for journalists to create a compelling narrative for the election.

Olsen argues the party is actually split into four categories: moderate, moderate and highly conservative, highly conservative and secular, and highly conservative and evangelical.

This model may elucidate the reason there is often a rogue, surprise candidate in each election and why it is difficult for one candidate to emerge as the most prominent. He believes that Republican candidates may be able to use this framework to their advantage.

Unsurprisingly, students had many questions for Olsen about how he sees the 2016 election unfolding. He spoke candidly about the party’s downfalls. He discussed the party's inflexibility, which becomes problematic across different demographics, and how the division of the party into his aforementioned categories weakens it. 

When asked if billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination, Olsen considered this possibility seriously, and said that he views the current situation as being similar to Barry Goldwater’s loss to Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. “If Trump was the nominee, you would see a great number of people leaving the party … just like Barry Goldwater lost a lot of traditional Republicans, which Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had to learn from,” Olson said.

Based on the tone of the questions, it seemed that there were students of many political leanings present. Regardless, students seemed impressed with Olsen’s statistical knowledge and analysis.

“[The talk] was fantastic,” Matt Dahl PO '17 said. “He gave a thorough analysis, insofar as that he knows all the statistics; within 12 hours, he had already memorized everything about the New Hampshire primary.” Furthermore, he believed that Olsen offered much needed diversity to the political discussion on campus. “You don’t see a lot of discussion of the GOP on campus, and it’s good that PSU brings good fringe viewpoints,” he said. “I take conservatism seriously, and to learn more about what’s wrong with the GOP is important.” 

“His biggest strength was his expertise from studying politics for a long time and being able to recognize signs from present campaigns that correlate to the past … Whether you agree with those opinions or not, they are a part of this country and understanding those opinions is crucial for us to be able to move forward,” Jonathan Yedahm Lee PO ’18 said. 

An audience member asked if Americans pay too much on the presidential race and not enough on policy changes. Olsen laughed and said, “We’re The Bachelor, if you will. No wonder the person who pioneered The Apprentice is doing so well!” He then took on a more somber tone and continued, “It is still the single most important office. The president has an enormous hand setting the image of the United States for the world. We ought to pay attention to it.”

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