Mock Convention’s Spring Kickoff Features Former Vice President Mock Convention made its Spring Kickoff event an informative preview of upcoming convention conversations.
“The convention’s intent is not to sway anyone politically, but to present ideas and learning opportunities. College is the best place to challenge what you believe, and Mock Con is one way to achieve that educational mission by making room to explore the political conditions of our time.”
~ Carly Snyder ’24
Washington and Lee University’s Mock Convention hosted a conversation between former Vice President Mike Pence and Bret Baier, chief political anchor of Fox News, for its Spring Kickoff event on Tuesday, March 21 in W&L’s University Chapel. While the Spring Kickoff event has often occurred during Spring Term, the organizers scheduled it earlier this year to accommodate the former vice president’s schedule and offer the campus a unique opportunity to hear from one of the most influential figures in the Republican party. The Spring Kickoff event also launched the 2024 Convention’s Mock Con Meets Main Street initiative, which aims to support local businesses, highlight student entrepreneurs, and connect students and faculty with businesses in Lexington.
Mock Convention is a simulated presidential nominating convention held on campus every four years, focusing on the party currently out of power in the White House. Its goal is to predict the candidate that party will nominate to run for President of the United States. The convention, founded in 1908, is one of the university’s longest-running traditions and is the nation’s most accurate mock political nominating convention, with 74% accuracy over its 115-year history. Mock Con gives students the opportunity to conduct an in-depth academic exercise in consultation with faculty advisors, gain valuable experience in organizational management, and engage in crucial political discourse.
Mock Con faculty advisor Scott Hoover, A. Stevens Miles Professor of Banking and Finance, said the recent kickoff event is an example of the time commitment that Mock Con’s student leaders make as part of their responsibilities.
“In the two weeks leading up to the Pence event, there were 28 Mock-Con-related meetings in my office alone,” Hoover said. “The students would meet again on their own in the evenings, debating strategies and sorting out who would be assigned to the various tasks. The students get no course credit and no financial compensation—although what they firmly believe, but do not yet know to be true, is that in less than a year, they will experience the most rewarding days of their young lives. In the end, they will find that all the work was worth it.”
Mock Con general chair Ramsay Trask ’24 said the team’s efforts and the knowledge students gained from the talk and interview made her proud.
“Watching our team come together quickly to put on such a large-scale event was very rewarding for me,” said Trask.
The Mock Con team began planning an event with Baier earlier in the academic year with the goal of having him interview a potential presidential hopeful from the Republican party, but they struggled to find a second speaker until receiving a call from alumnus Marc Short ’92. Short, who has served as Pence’s chief of staff since March 2019 and joined Mock Convention’s Board of Advisors last summer, was instrumental in connecting Mock Con to the Pence team. Short said the vice president has been prioritizing speaking to college campuses in recent weeks, particularly on the topic of entitlements, an issue he views as having a significant impact on this generation of students.
“W&L also offers a student body that’s incredibly intelligent, and I think that’s another reason that the vice president wanted to choose this as a place to have a very substantive conversation,” Short said. “The Mock Con team also made it exceptionally easy for us to execute the logistics.”
Mock Con communications director Anna Connolly ’25 said that the organization is grateful for Short’s assistance in bringing the event to campus.
“At the core of Mock Convention is our academic mission to bring speakers to engage with our student body and promote civil political discourse on campus,” Connolly said. “By bringing in high-caliber speakers from across the Republican party, we can fulfill this mission. For most of the students on campus, the 2024 presidential election will be their first chance to actively participate, and we aim to promote civil engagement now that will extend beyond their experience at W&L.”
Since its inception, the convention has brought five U.S. Presidents to campus — Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Joe Biden — among countless vice presidents, representatives, journalists, and other thought leaders. Recent notable Mock Con speakers include former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter, Barbara Bush; former host of “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah; and Vice President Dick Cheney.
This year’s kickoff event set the tone for what the leadership team hopes will be an informative convention representing a range of ideologies. Mock Convention’s director of operations, Carly Snyder ’24, said Pence’s substantive discussion of his policy positions tied the event to the convention’s core mission of educating students and encouraging political discourse on campus.
“The convention’s intent is not to sway anyone politically,” Snyder said, “but to present ideas and learning opportunities. College is the best place to challenge what you believe, and Mock Con is one way to achieve that educational mission by making room to explore the political conditions of our time.”
“Mock Convention is such a unique organization because it gives undergraduate students the opportunity to go beyond the classroom and work in a professional setting,” said Addie-Grace Cook ’26, who serves as Mock Con’s press secretary and was instrumental in coordinating with media contacts involved in the event. “I learned so much about communicating event logistics, providing information concisely, and working with diverse groups with differing interests in just a few weeks. I feel so honored to be able to do this work and to use the critical thinking and analysis skills I’m learning in the classroom in the real world.”
Approximately 98% of W&L’s student body will have participated in some aspect of the convention by the time it is held on Feb. 9–11, 2024, when it will feature a citywide parade, additional notable speakers, and the predicted nomination. At its core, the convention is an experiment by 1,500 undergraduates that is designed to inform students and the public of the state and history of U.S. politics, providing valuable context for current political affairs and discourse within the framework of an academic community.
The convention, said Assistant Professor of Politics and Mock Con faculty advisor Brian Alexander, “is a research project, and it is the responsibility of the 2024 convention to do their best to dig into what the modern Republican party looks like. Mock Convention provides the opportunity to get to know and understand aspects of American politics and American political life in a way that students couldn’t experience anywhere else.”