Several University groups gathered Sunday to watch the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates for president square off in this election's cycle second debate, including the University’s chapter of College Republicans and the University’s chapter of the Black Student Union and the fraternity Phi Beta Sigma.
The presidential debate followed a “town hall” format in which undecided voters — chosen by Gallup, social media and the moderators — asked questions directly to the candidates.
LSA sophomore Jesse Love, treasurer for Phi Beta Sigma and political actions chair for the BSU, said he was pleased with the turnout of their nonpartisan event and the effort to register students to vote.
“It’s just simply to get people to vote and to get them informed about what they’re voting about, because it’s easy to tell them which way they should vote, but it’s more powerful to educate them about why they’re voting the way that they’re voting,” Love said. “Watching the debates, having discussions before and after, give people who aren’t necessarily politically savvy or politically literate in the sense of they’re not up on the issues, a space to talk about that and discuss and give answers.”
At the College Republicans’ watch party, the focus was on Republican nominee Donald Trump as he attempted to answer for a tape released this week that featured Trump making comments about touching women without their consent. During the debate, Trump reiterated that the tape was only “locker room talk”, and charged that his words paled in comparison to alleged sexual assaults by Bill Clinton.
Echoing Trump, Engineering freshman Lincoln Merrill noted the difference between sexually abusive words and actions, saying the latter were more damaging.
“Yes, Trump has said some things, but Hillary and her husband have done a lot of things, not just with the video that surfaced recently,” Merrill said.
The controversy over the tape set the tone for the remainder of the debate, which also touched on polarizing topics such as Clinton’s personal email server, health care reform, Islamophobia, Syria, Supreme Court nominees and energy policy.
At the end of the night, members of the College Republican reflected on the debate and shared their thoughts about the candidates’ performances. One attendee described the debate as combative, and several others charged that the moderators were biased throughout the evening.
Despite the obstacles Trump faced going in, most of the College Republicans agreed that he won the debate. LSA junior Enrique Zalamea, president of the College Republicans, said he found Trump’s combative nature successful.
“I think Trump won the debate. He landed a lot of hits,” Zalamea said. “I definitely think his behavior during this debate helped ease people’s concerns with regards to his professionalism and his temperament.”
Sharing similar sentiment, Merrill said Trump’s performance was effective in keeping Clinton on the defensive.
“Trump won the debate,” he said. “He went on offense a lot, he was calm, he called (Clinton) out on the things she had said, and she had no way to respond to them.”
Though the debate watch party was open to all students, Merrill noted that he appreciates watching with people of similar ideologies.
“When I come here, I can finally find people that I can connect with and I can watch the debates in an environment that I feel comfortable in. I can just sit down, relax and be around other conservatives,” Merrill said.
In contrast, LSA junior Collin Kelly, chair of the College Democrats, wrote in an email interview that the debate proved Trump didn't have the qualifications to be president. The College Democrats did not hold a viewing party for the debate.
“This debate just proved once more what we have seen time and time again throughout this campaign and in the first debate: that only Hillary Clinton has the knowledge, experience, and temperament to be president,” Kelly wrote. “Instead of attacking, interrupting, and evading, Sec. Clinton demonstrated that she is the only candidate fit for office, that she will be ready to serve the American people on day one.”
The College Republicans will be hosting a watch party for the third debate on Oct. 19. The event will be sponsored by the American Enterprise Initiative and Zalamea predicted it will attract a large crowd. He added that he hopes the event will be less about partisanship and have more emphasis on involvement.
“The event isn’t just open to Republicans, it’s open to anyone who wants to attend,” he said. “Really, the biggest thing about College Republicans is to increase people’s involvement in politics.”