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Former Members of Congress Discuss 2024 Election, Trump at IOP Forum

Four former members of Congress discussed the possibility of a second Trump presidency at an Institute of Politics forum.
Four former members of Congress discussed the possibility of a second Trump presidency at an Institute of Politics forum. By Jose A. Avalos
By William C. Mao and Dhruv T. Patel, Crimson Staff Writers

Four former members of Congress discussed key issues in the upcoming 2024 U.S. presidential election and the implications of re-electing former President Donald Trump at an Institute of Politics forum on Tuesday.

The event — moderated by IOP Resident Fellow Alison King — featured former U.S. Representatives Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Esty ’80 (D-Conn.), Robert Dold (R-Ill.), and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.). The forum comes as Americans head to the ballots to vote in primary elections for the upcoming 2024 presidential race.

Crowley, who called Trump a “very damaged human being,” said Trump should “never have been President of the United States.”

“I don’t fear a Republican-controlled Congress, I don’t fear a Republican-controlled Senate,” Crowley said. “I fear that person being President.”

Esty said she was concerned about Trump’s ongoing legal troubles and said Trump is running for office “to get himself out from under a legal jeopardy.”

“The overarching problem I see with Donald Trump is really the antithesis of what the country was created as no person is above the law,” Esty said.

“He has helped to break trust with American institutions,” she added. “That has consequences for the whole society.”

However, Dold — an outspoken Republican critic of Trump — said he still believed that American institutions are “extraordinarily strong.”

“I have tremendous faith that one man can’t be the one to tear down the government,” Dold said.

Esty discussed rising prices nationwide, including for gas, food, and housing. She cautioned that despite the “remarkably strong” state of the U.S. economy, it is difficult for Americans to see the underlying economic conditions.

“You don’t experience the overall economy,” Esty said. “You experience your own economy.”

Dold agreed that “people’s economy is very personal” and that voters will “vote with their checkbooks.”

He said though interest rates today are “very, very low” compared to historical rates, they are still significantly higher than what Americans have seen in recent times.

“An 8.5 percent mortgage or 7.5 percent mortgage — that's enormous,” Dold said. “That’s a lot out of your weekly, your monthly budget.”

The panelists also discussed the implications of the ongoing war in Gaza.

Dold said Israel is “not going to back down” and has “every right to defend themselves,” comparing Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel to the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

“October 7 was like our September 11,” Dold said. “I don’t think that we, in the United States, fully appreciate what that felt like for them.”

Crowley also said Israel has “the right to resist, the right to defend themselves,” but added that he was “not a Netanyahu fan” in reference to the current Israeli Prime Minister.

“I think he is probably the worst person in the position right now,” Crowley said. “His whole survival politically is based on the conflict as opposed to a solution.”

Panelists were split over whether Trump misstepped in taking an aggressive stance towards the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Crowley criticized Trump and said “he doesn’t have a grasp of history.”

“What we have under Biden is cooperation with NATO, cooperation with Europe, and cooperation with the free world,” he said. “I don’t think Trump actually knows why NATO existed.”

Denham, however, defended Trump’s hard line on NATO.

“Everyone should pay their fair share,” he said. “I think that’s what President Trump was pushing at the time. Not necessarily disband it, but making sure every country is doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Esty cautioned against Trump returning to the White House, citing rising tensions along political lines in recent years.

“Trump did not create the unrest in this country,” Esty said. “But he has used a blowtorch on it.”

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at william.mao@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @williamcmao.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at dhruv.patel@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @dhruvtkpatel.

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