BYU College Republicans and Democrats React to First Presidential Debate

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Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News listens as President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

BYU College Democrats co-president Abigail Ryan laughed when asked to describe the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in one word.

“Oh dear,” she said. “Messy.”

Trump and Biden faced off on issues of race, the economy, law and order, climate change and Trump’s recent Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the first of the presidential debate Sept. 29. While BYU College Republicans and BYU College Democrats didn’t hold in person watch parties because of COVID-19, they had a lot to say about the debate. The Daily Universe asked a few members of both clubs for their responses.

Ryan competed in speech and debate throughout high school and said it was disheartening to see debate etiquette abandoned by both candidates. She referenced moments like Biden’s “Will you shut up man,” comment to Trump, or when he called Trump a liar, as moments she wasn’t proud of.

“He spent a little too much time focusing on personal attacks,” she said of Biden.

Ethan Johnson, a member of BYU College Republicans, agreed. “Both of them were very fiery and I don’t think that many people are going to be swayed either way, because both of them sounded like they had no intention of meeting anywhere in the middle.”

When asked what students who didn’t watch the debate missed, Johnson said, “They missed out on Chris Wallace being the highest-paid babysitter ever.”

He said Wallace, the Fox News journalist who moderated the debate, constantly had to keep the candidates from interrupting each other and remind them of basic rules of debate etiquette.

“Trump was Trump,” College Republicans member Mark Hailstone said, citing Trump’s tendency to exaggerate and take the offensive.

Johnson agreed. “Trump did not display himself as a man people would want to be friends with or most people would want to vote for,” he said.

Luke Romney of College Democrats said he was shocked by Trump’s attacks on Biden’s family. “My jaw dropped when Trump brought up Biden’s dead son,” he said. “And also attacked his son for a drug addiction. That was the lowest blow I’ve ever seen dealt in politics in my life. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Members of both College Republicans and College Democrats said there were issues brought up during the debate, however, that were important to them. Climate change and race were top issues for Romney, who said he was disgusted by what he said was the president’s inability to directly denounce white supremacy during the debate. Ryan agreed, calling it “the most abhorrent” part.

When asked during the debate if he was willing to denounce white supremacists, Trump said, “Sure, I’m willing to do that.” The president has been on the record to denounce white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan in past statements. When asked if that changed his opinion, Romney said no.

“I’m not calling him a white supremacist,” Romney said. “I’m not saying, ‘he has never called out white supremacy because he is a white supremacist.’ But the fact that he wouldn’t do it in front of the nation is terrifying because it shows that he’s not willing to make a very simple moral statement in order to pander to a part of his political base.”

Romney said he appreciated Biden’s appeal to the moderate voter base in America. “That’s the thing we need in politics. There are so many in the population of America right now that doesn’t want to vote.”

Ryan said though she didn’t think Biden’s greatest strength was debate, his performance represented something important about the Democratic party. Even though at times he was flustered and frustrated, Ryan said that’s symbolic of how many Democrats feel about the current presidential administration.

From the Republican side, Johnson said he appreciated the president’s forceful words condemning the lack of law and order in cities like Portland because of rioting from left-wing groups like Antifa.

College Republicans member Joshua DeLaigle said he thought Trump performed well when talking about the economy, which before COVID-19 had the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years.

“Setting aside the style of the debate, I really think that Donald Trump delivered,” he said.

Members of both College Republicans and College Democrats said there is more to their party than was represented by their candidate.

“College Republicans represent values of the American people,” DeLaigle said. “Democrats are becoming a lot more radicalized. We love the values that we cherish. We love freedom, we love the Constitution, we love free elections, and we represent that in how we live our lives.”

When talking about what she hopes students will understand about College Democrats, Ryan said, “We want them to know that we’re also just trying to come as close to the values we’ve been taught. We see Joe Biden as a more respectful candidate, even though we may not love everything about him.”

The next presidential debates are scheduled for October 15 and 22, with the vice-presidential candidates squaring off next Wednesday, October 7.

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