Emails and Walls: Mock debate mirrors rhetoric of actual presidential Debates

Seventh semester economics and political science major Marissa Piccolo argues her point while posing as Hillary Clinton during a mock debate between Clinton and Donald Trump, played by Michael Grischuk, a fifth-semester communication major on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016 in Storrs Hall. The debate was hosted so journalism students in Newswriting I could ask questions about each politician's views. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

A mock presidential debate between two University of Connecticut students provided an opportunity for newswriting students to ask questions about the policies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The topics covered in the mock debate, moderated by journalism Professor Mike Stanton, included college tuitions, minimum wage, the character and fitness for office of both candidates, women, transgender bathrooms and LGBT rights.

“Students were bringing up issues that were actually pertinent,” Livesay said.  

Marissa Piccolo, a seventh-semester economics and political science double major and associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus, played Clinton, and even donned a pair of red pants reminiscent of those Clinton wore to the first debate.

Michael Grischuk, a fifth-semester communication major, played Trump.

The setup of the debate most closely matched that of the second presidential debate which was conducted as in a town hall format, allowing voters to ask the candidates questions directly.

Professor Stanton often called on students to ask previously submitted questions as a way of directing the dialogue between the “candidates.”

Piccolo and Grischuk used some of the classic soundbites from their respective candidates throughout the debate.

“It’s important that we remind them [our children] and ourselves that America is great because American is good,” Piccolo said in her opening remarks as Secretary Clinton, paraphrasing her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.   

During the mock debate, candidates did not interrupt one another while their opponent was making an argument, a stark contrast to the actual debates.

Time Magazine reported that Trump interrupted Clinton and moderator Lester Holt 55 times during the first debate. 

“I think Chris carried himself better than Trump, the mock candidates did a better job than someone in an actual presidential debate,” fifth-semester journalism major in Newswriting I and sports writer for The Daily Campus Isaiah Chisolm said.   

While Piccolo and Grischuk were generally more respectful of one another than the actual candidates, they did include some jabs mimicking those made during actual debates, including the controversy surrounding Clinton’s emails.

“My opponent’s campaign is not as squeaky clean as you might like to believe that it is,” Grischuk said.

Chisolm said these slight digs added to the believability of the performances.

“They took little shots at each other,” Chisolm said. “It was interesting because they really replicated the differences between each other and how they feel about each other, there’s a certain level of disdain.”

A major topic of the debate was immigration and the construction of and payment for Trump’s infamous wall along the Mexican border.

“It wouldn’t be a debate without a question about the wall,” Stanton said.

Grischuk proceeded to explain Trump’s plans to fund the wall through impounding remittance payments and increased taxation on Mexican imports and addressed an earlier claim by Trump that Mexico would directly fund the construction of the wall.

“Perhaps I was being a little bit colorful, I was a reality TV star for some time,” Grischuk said.    

There were also moments during the debate when the students spoke as themselves, such as when Grischuk broke character to point students to a specific video he was referencing when discussing voter fraud on the part of the Clinton campaign in the primaries.

“There were a few breaks in the fourth wall [that were] a reminder that this is staged. In the actual presidential debates, it’s the real thing, they’re not portraying someone else,” Livesay said.

Livesay said the mock debate served as an effective platform for relevant political issues.

“I think it was a good way to get people to think more about the policies and the issues that have characterized the election especially as election day is upon us in a few weeks,” Livesay said.


Anna Zarra Aldrich is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anna.aldrich@uconn.edu. She tweets @ZarraAnna