Tom Stilson graduated from Stanford University in 2009. Today, he is running for Congress from Missouri’s 7thdistrict. He just turned 25, and is running against an incumbent who is almost 30 years his senior. When he decided to run for office, Missourians must have been baffled by who this audacious young man was, but Stilson is out to make sure that the initial surprise gives way to the appreciation of a true, back-to-basics Republican candidate.
Stilson is unabashedly conservative, and his ideas align well with streamline conservative ideas. However, he has strived to become relatable to young Republicans, and provides a delicate balance between advocating for traditional principles and behaving in a modern world. In an interview with the *Review, *he remarked, “young people need to step in right now, because if they’re not ready to take some of the steps to restoring our country, we cannot recover.”But Stilson’s politics can be found on his website, and in his campaign material. What we wanted to explore was who he was at Stanford.
After serving as a member of the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) in high school, Stilson decided to come to Stanford when he got recruited by the baseball team. A left-arm pitcher for the Cardinal, he was active off the diamond with Cardinal Life, the Christian group, as well as in his volunteering position at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Stilson was also an avid writer, and later an editor, of the Stanford Review.
While many students from conservative backgrounds talk about the struggles with their beliefs at Stanford, Stilson recalled that college had in fact made him more conservative. He remembers Introduction to Moral Philosophy as a class that challenged him to spend more time thinking about his beliefs.
However, defending his newfound strength in conservative ideas was just as difficult for him. “If you’re conservative, every day that you wake up and go to class, someone’s going to challenge you,” he recalled, “I did have professors who challenged me on things, such as global warming and capitalism. But I would never apologize. When you know that what you’re talking about is right, why should you apologize?”
Despite having a difficult time defending his ideas, Stilson believes the training prepared him well for a career in politics. According to him, “in politics, you have to have a very thick skin. The debates and challenges build a principled candidate.”
Stanford also provided Stilson with unique learning opportunities that he believes guides him today. “I enjoyed baseball, but I also enjoyed the Hoover Institute,” he told the *Review, *“you don’t get that sort of exposure. Otherwise, how often would you bump into a secretary of state when you’re at lunch?”
Although Stanford is one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, and our fame is prevalent everywhere, so is our reputation for being a liberal “California” school. When asked how Missourians perceive his education, Stilson agrees that many think he studied “out there in one of those liberal schools.” But a proud Cardinal, he makes sure to defend his alma mater, and responds “Yes I was, and I had to bust my ass every day. And thanks to the Hoover Institute I got to speak to some of the best conservative minds. [A lot of voters] want the hometown, good old boy. But Missouri is a ‘show-me’ state, these are not dumb people.”
At the *Stanford Review, *Stilson found a community of peers who encouraged him to further broaden his intellectual horizons. More importantly for him, he could appreciate that in his plight to govern on strong conservative principles. As he remembered, “people at the Review gave me the perspective that there was going to be a generation that I would like.”
Albeit being a congressional contender straight out of college, Stilson maintains that he had never quite envisioned a life in politics. According to him, this progression is an epitome of the idiom that “you don’t choose the dog, the dog chooses you.” Stilson was introduced to Terry Campbell, the Campaign manager for Republican candidate Sharon Angel in the 2010 bid for the Senate seat from Nevada held by Harry Reid. A few conversations later, Stilson was convinced that this is what he wanted.
“I thought I had to step into the game and finally get involved,” Stilson explained, “people in our country have a feeling of defeatism. There’s reckless spending, and we’re allowing our futures to be spent, along with [allowing] our kids’ futures to be spent.”
So how realistic is it for this candidate to snatch victory from an incumbent? “He’s got a lot of money, but the grassroots support has been here,” Stilson proclaims with confidence,” money doesn’t mean anything, and if your guts are heated, it doesn’t matter. I do think there is voter dissatisfaction here, and he doesn’t have the support.”
According to Article I Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, a candidate for Congress must be at least 25 years of age. In that department, Stilson has just become eligible, and if elected, will therefore be one of the youngest representatives in recent history.
A trip to Stilson’s website makes you wonder if he belongs in 2012, or a generation much older. However, anyone who has spoken to him knows that regardless of how traditional his ideas may seem, the thought process he has applied to arriving at these conclusions is fairly modern. With a recent Stanford education under his belt, and lots of thinking and debate going into building his core philosophies, Stilson has ensured that even if some disagree with him, he can proudly defend himself by asserting that his ideas are his own, and that he had bothered to think them all through- just as he did during his time here on the Farm.