The temperature was hot and the atmosphere was heated in the University of Maryland’s Reckord Armory on Friday night, with about 275 people crammed into a basement lecture hall to watch the Terps for Trump versus Terps for Bernie debate.
The debate between six Terps for Bernie members and four Terps for Trump members, which lasted about two hours, was part of an effort to draw attention to the 2016 presidential election and the April 26 state primary, as well as to boost excitement for both groups, said Terps for Bernie President Christopher Walkup.
During the debate — which was moderated by Tyler Ziegler, a freshman government and politics major, and Carlton Klein, an international development graduate student — the groups sparred over each candidate’s positions on foreign policy, domestic policy and social issues and responded to questions from the audience at the end.
While policy topics included immigration, taxes and the Israel-Palestine conflict, the crowd was more enthusiastic about social issues, Ziegler said, including LGBT rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Terps for Bernie debate participant Tisya Mavuram, a sophomore government and politics major, said, “Bernie Sanders is of the reasonable belief that police officers, like any other citizen, should be held accountable for their crimes,” a statement that elicited an audience member’s shout of support.
Debate participants also exchanged words over the candidates’ policies for higher education.
Terps for Trump member and debate participant Shubham Chattopadhyay said the Democratic candidate’s push for free tuition at public universities would devalue a college degree.
“If everybody has a degree, nobody has a degree,” the freshman computer engineering major said. “That’s what happened to the high school degree. Now, people with even a master’s degree can’t find a job.”
But Walkup, a junior government and politics and theatre major, said Sanders’ tuition plan is misunderstood.
“Tuition-free public colleges and universities is more about eliminating that cost barrier and providing a more equal playing field for people, regardless of what background they’re coming from, if they try hard to get educated,” Walkup said. “There are a lot of people that don’t go to college that have the ability to and should, but they can’t because they don’t have enough money.”
There seemed to be more support from the crowd for Terps for Bernie, Chattopadhyay said.
“I think we had maybe 30 people [behind us], and [Terps for Bernie] had about 100,” Chattopadhyay said. “That’s just going to happen, and whoever cheers the most, you think they’re winning.”
Each side felt the debate went well, but said they saw room for improvement.
Terps for Trump members “support [him] for very, very different reasons,” Chattopadhyay said, but he noted he would have liked Terps for Trump to have had more of a unified plan to compete with Terps for Bernie debaters, who had a more uniform set of ideals and beliefs.
The participants also sometimes strayed from supporting their candidate’s positions and started arguing about their own beliefs, Walkup said.
“It was a very casual debate, so obviously there were some hiccups,” Walkup said. “There were some clashes with the moderators, but that happens even at the presidential level.”