Mock debate has elusive quality — civility

October 24, 2016 / by / 0 Comment

Story by Laurie Merrill
Photos by Darryl Webb

GCU News Bureau

The “candidates” hardly interrupted each other at all, exceeded their time limits only a little and stuck to the issues Friday. The mock presidential debate staged by Grand Canyon University’s Speech and Debate Team was nothing like the three real ones during this political season.

"Candidates," from left, Jill Stein, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Gary Johnson is off screen.

“Candidates,” from left, Jill Stein, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Gary Johnson is off screen.

Sure, the Ethington Theatre event was filled with laugh-inducing one-liners poking fun at the candidates, and it was clear that role players enjoyed a few over-the-top caricatures.

But compared to the three debates between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, the debate was the height of decorum.

“This is very different from anything we’ve encountered,” said the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean, Dr. Sherman Elliott. “We wanted to showcase civil discourse.”

GCU also added third-party candidates to the mix. The five participants were Green Party Candidate Jill Stein (Alaina Owen), Libertarian Gary Johnson (Zachary Kuykendall), Clinton (Jasmin Sharp), Trump (Thomas Rotering) and moderator Kara Sutton. (Click here for a slideshow of the debate.)

Student Zachary Kuykendall played Libertarian Gary Johnson, who won the GCU balloting.

Student Zachary Kuykendall played Libertarian Gary Johnson, who won the GCU balloting.

The nearly 250 students in attendance had a chance to cast ballots for their favorites at the end.

“We promise you, it won’t be rigged,” said Speech and Debate Team Director Barry Regan, a CHSS instructor.

The balloting results: Johnson 87, Trump 44, Clinton 10 and Stein 5.

Serious policy positions were interspersed with humor. In his opening remarks, Johnson declared, “I want to show the American people that you don’t have to choose the lesser of two evils.”

Some of Trump’s funnier lines were takeoffs of widely circulated quotes. For example, in separate responses, he said that “nobody loves Arizona more than I do,” and “nobody loves Muslims more than I do.”

Thomas Rotering had fun imitating Trump's hand gestures.

Thomas Rotering had fun imitating Trump’s hand gestures.

Similarly, on the topic of immigration reform, Trump announced, “We are going to build a wall, and it’s going to be huge,” while on the topic of health care, he stated that his plan “is going to be huge.”

A bigger wall would only create a bigger  market for higher ladders, Clinton said. It’s important to keep open America’s door for Syrian refugees.

“We need to allow them in to have a model to follow when we all move to Canada after dictator Trump is elected,” she said.

In playing Clinton, the blonde-haired, business-like Sharp had clearly studied Clinton’s hand gestures and body language. She wore a red business suit and spoke very swiftly.

In one statement, she blurted out, “Being a woman, and being the first woman nominee, I support having Supreme Court justices that will be supportive of women’s rights.”

Rotering, playing the role of Trump, obviously enjoyed mimicking Trump’s hand gestures and some of his standard lines. Though it was only once, he interrupted Clinton to say, “That’s not true.”

Some of the best lines were voiced by Johnson and were clearly relished by the student playing the part, Kuykendall.

“I want to live in an America where a same-sex couple can protect their marijuana fields with AK-47s,” he said, drawing an enthusiastic response from the crowd.

In one of a volley of potshots at Clinton (he jabbed at Trump and Stein, too), Johnson said: “I missed the Hillary email about debate-specific questions.”

The stage was decorated appropriately by the Of Thee I Sing set designers.

The stage was decorated appropriately by the “Of Thee I Sing” set designers.

Trump couldn’t resist jumping into the email fray, adding, “I think I missed the email, too, but I’ll just ask my friend (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. I’m sure he has a copy of it.”

Johnson taunted Trump when he said, “At least I still believe the polls — right, Donald?”

On education, Stein promised no tuition from preschool through college, but Clinton retorted that this was like waving “a magic wand.”

Trump added that “the policies of no child left behind have indeed left children behind,” after which Clinton lambasted Trump’s “fake online real estate college.”

Each had a silly reason why they were uniquely qualified to be president, but Clinton’s was perhaps the silliest: “I’m the only one who’s ever been in the White House.”

Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or


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