University and community members gathered in Richardson Auditorium on the evening of Sept. 26 to watch the first Presidential debate of the 2016 contest.
Throughout the debate, audience members laughed, clapped, snapped, booed, and shouted in the auditorium. Some students expressed outrage or shock at comments made during the debate.
At the outset of the debate, both candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — shook hands, as is tradition.
The debate opened up with questions pertaining to the economy, an issue at the forefront of many voters’ concerns. Hillary immediately set the tone of the debate, terming Trump’s proposed policies “Trumped-up trickle-down economics”, a move that elicited laughter and applause from the crowd. After some back-and-forth regarding the effectiveness of NAFTA, the economic conversation quickly turned to the classically partisan issues of taxes, with Trump promising to “cut taxes bigly.”
Audience member Mike Rahimzadeh ‘19 noted that the debate touched on a “big range” of topics including immigration and the Middle East. He called the varied tones during the debate both “comedic” and “fearful.”
Another audience member said that Clinton delivered a successful performance.
“Hillary succeeded in a captivating performance,” said Caleb Visser ‘20. “Her patient demeanor was both firm, yet reserved, and I thought that was a strong counterbalance to the radical sensationalism that Trump presented.”
He said that he’s “excited” to see what kind of impact the debate has on the campaign.
Clinton turned the tax discussion on its head, bringing up Trump’s reluctance to release his tax returns, stating that she doesn’t “believe he's ever going to release his tax returns because there's something he's hiding”. While Trump tried to defend his decision by claiming he cannot release tax information that is under audit, Clinton drew attention to his multiple business bankruptcies, another sore spot for Trump, who bases much of his qualification for the presidency on his business background.
The latter portion of the debate was devoted to issues of violence, both domestic and international. Trump and Clinton, in a rare moment, both agreed that guns should stay out of the hands of those with malicious intentions. Clinton, in an appeal to minority groups, was sure to mention her disapproval of implicit bias present in arrests.
As the debate turned to the violence present in the international community, particularly in the Middle East, each candidate presented simplified versions of plans for success against ISIS. Clinton called for “an intelligence surge” while Trump argued that “we have to knock the hell out of ISIS and we have to do it fast.” After briefly dabbling in the topic of nuclear disarmament, specifically a first strike policy, both candidates wrapped up their performances for the night, marking the end of the first of three presidential debates.
One audience member, Ciara Corbeil ‘17, who plans to write her thesis on presidential debates, said that she was “surprised that the gloves came off a bit.” For her thesis, she said she is still refining the topic but focusing on the intersection of mass media and the political process with special attention to the role political theater plays in televised presidential debates.
“I’ve actually been in touch with some members of the commission on presidential debates and they were afraid that the candidates would be like playing on the safe side, but I was happy to see that some real issues did come out,” Corbeil said.“I think that a lot of people thought that Hillary was out to prove to people that she was trustworthy and that Trump was out to prove that he had the political chops and the skills,” Corbeil said. “So I think that they both tried to hammer home those points and that didn’t surprise me.”