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College Republicans and College Democrats trade jabs over inflation, abortion in midterm debate

College Republicans representative Shri Thakur and College Democrats representative Blake Ziegler sparred over inflation, abortion and crime in a debate hosted by BridgeND ahead of the midterm elections.

(Editor’s note: Ziegler is a Viewpoint columnist for The Observer)

Ziegler spent much of the debate defending President Joe Biden’s presidency and highlighting “one of the most productive legislative sessions in recent history,” while also painting the Republican Party as extremist and lacking a clear vision for the country.

Thakur criticized the Biden administration, especially for its handling of the economy, and focused primarily on cultural issues relating to education, abortion and crime.

“The Democrats have spent the last few years and really the last few decades waging a war on the American way of life and the institutions that once sustained it,” Thakur said.

On the economy, Thakur blasted the Biden administration for the record levels of inflation seen in the past year. 

“Democrats enacted a prolonged lockdown of our economy causing over 200,000 small businesses to close while ballooning total billionaire wealth by $1.7 trillion. And to make matters worse, they then went on to print $6 trillion in two years and declare war on American energy, halting the new drilling of oil and gas blocking permits and sending the price of basically everything skyrocketing,” he said.

Ziegler framed inflation as a worldwide problem not caused by any Democratic policies and highlighted the Inflation Reduction Act as a boost to the American economy. 

“The Inflation Reduction Act will lower healthcare costs and energy prices while raising Social Security payments,” he said.

The debate then turned to crime, a key talking point in the 2022 elections. Thakur blamed Democrat policies for the rise of crime in cities.

“In dozens of Democrat-run cities across the nation homicides have increased by 50%, assault by 36%,” he said. “In New York and San Francisco, Democratic prosecutors are abolishing cash bail, refusing to prosecute theft and defunding the police.”

Ziegler instead focused on root causes of crime. 

“The failures of our economy and social welfare programs have forced millions of Americans, who are disproportionately people of color, to resort to crime,” he said.

While discussion over economic policy and crime remained relatively civil, the debate became more contentious as the questions shifted toward abortion and education.

“We are two men talking about a decision we will never have to make,” Ziegler said. 

Ziegler also condemned Republicans for attacking the right to an abortion that “has been in place for 50 years” and stated that Roe v. Wade should be reinstated.

To begin his segment, Thakur began by declaring that “abortion is murder.” He argued that the unborn are “genetically distinct” human beings worthy of equal consideration and supported a federal ban on abortion justified by the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution.

“Policy making is about pragmatism. It’s about your interests. It’s not about imposing your own personal or religious views on others. I’m Jewish, I shouldn’t have to listen to Christianity to tell me when life begins,” Ziegler rebutted.

“He brought religion into this,” Thakur said in response. “You don’t need to be religious to understand the fact that human life begins at conception and that we should not be killing innocent human beings.”

On education, Thakur criticized Democrat-run states for closing schools during the pandemic and for including transgenderism into school curricula. 

“This is a war on reality and the children are the causality,” Thakur said.

Ziegler touted the Biden administration’s efforts to improve education and blasted Republican rhetoric about education as “homophobic and transphobic.”

The polarization of the debate went on full display when both debaters were asked to recognize something they believed the opposite party had done well in the past two years. Zeigler praised some Republicans for voting for President Biden’s legislation, while Thakur thanked Democrats for ensuring “there will be a Republican majority for the next 10 years.”

Both candidates then gave their concluding remarks and articulated their vision for the country.

Ziegler framed the Republican Party as a threat to democracy and painted the election as a choice between authoritarianism and democracy.

 “This midterm election has a pivotal role in the state of American democracy and whether it will continue for future elections. Election denialism cannot win, hatred cannot win, authoritarianism cannot win. What must win is democracy, equality and freedom,” Ziegler said.

Thakur urged voters to reject Democrats’ vision for the U.S. and to defend American institutions.

“The Democratic Party has waged war on everything good. And the result is a society that is more antagonized, more self-destructive and weaker than ever before,” Thakur said. “We are going to defend our culture and put Americans first in the name of God, family and country and we are going to make America great again.”

Contact Liam Kelly at lkelly8@nd.edu.