Duke students gathered Monday night to watch the presidential nominees face off in the first debate.
Hosted by YOUnite and the Duke International Relations Association, the first "Debate Watch Party" at the Devil's Krafthouse drew more than a hundred students. Watch parties also occurred elsewhere on campus, such as in the common rooms of Giles and Wannamaker. Michael Munger, professor of political science and a supporter of third-party Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson's presidential bid, spoke beforehand about the history of presidential debates.
“The question is: which point of view and which party do we want to lead the United States?” Munger said in his speech. “Wouldn't that be refreshing—where the debates are an extended discussion about different points of view, different visions of governance, each candidate would grant a basic competence of the other. That's probably not what we are going to hear tonight.”
Many political student leaders on campus said they thought that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton beat Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“I think Hillary won the debate,” wrote senior Adam Lemon, former chair of the Duke College Republicans. “She managed to make the debate a matter of policy from the beginning, and due to Trump's difficulty with facts, he was playing on her ground. I think Clinton certainly could have swayed independent voters with this, but Trump supporters were unlikely to have been moved.”
Juniors Matthew King, former president of YOUnite, and Lisa Guraya, president of Public Policy Studies Majors Union, also agreed that Clinton fared better in the debate.
Freshman Nikhil Sridhar disagreed, however.
“Donald Trump did an excellent job of pointing out many flaws in Hillary's past and her plans, or lack of, for our future,” Sridhar wrote in an email. “He got her on [the Trans-Pacific Partnership], Bill Clinton's NAFTA, getting ripped off by NATO, taxes, the Iran Deal, etc. I will admit that he did get muddled up in the race segment a little bit, but overall he did far better than Hillary.”
Lemon and King noted that Clinton’s flaws in the debate were in regard to the TPP and Iraq.
“I think that Hillary's sort of only foible in the debate was the discussion of Iraq,” King said. “It was a little more nuanced than she portrayed it.”
Junior Colin Duffy, president of Duke College Republicans, also noted that Clinton's position on TPP detracted from her credibility.
"Hillary Clinton continued to demonstrate her hypocritical stance on TPP, which loses voters due to concerns of authenticity and trade position," he wrote in an email. "Trump’s focus on American manufacturing could sway Democrats in areas hurt the most by the outsourcing of the American manufacturing sector."
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“I thought he was missing for significant portions of the debate,” King said. “I wish that he had been more assertive in enforcing his deadlines, especially at the beginning, where it seemed to be much more of a back-and-forth between [the candidates] than a moderated debate session.”
According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump was able to interrupt or interject Clinton 27 times, as opposed to Clinton’s five interjections.
Duffy noted that he thought the debate's questions were fair, especially compared to prior years.
"I thought the moderator did a good job of not repeating the same unprofessional mistakes Candy Crowley made with her non-factual fact-checking interruptions in the 2012 presidential debate," he wrote.
Whether fact-checking is a job of the moderator at all, however, has not been decided, Lemon explained.
“I think Lester Holt did a decent job of fact-checking—though there is a debate as to whether that is part of the role of the moderator,” Lemon wrote. “I do think that he was unable to control the flow of the debate the way a moderator should.”
Guraya said she believes that Holt was biased towards Clinton and did not hold her as accountable as he did with Trump. In fact, Holt debated the truth with Trump on a variety of statements, such as his support for the Iraqi invasion, his ability to release his tax returns and the effectiveness of "stop and frisk."
Trump once again said that he was in an Internal Revenue Service audit, so he would not release his tax returns at the moment, which Holt said was not a valid excuse.
The watch party, which the first of a series of gatherings for the upcoming debates, were attended by a range of students.
“The watch party went really well,” Guraya said. “It's really exciting to see so many students engaged in this election and so many students excited to watch [the debate]. I think it's really awesome to see and hopefully, they'll actually turn out to vote.”