On Wednesday, September 16th, nearly thirty students—Republican and Democrat alike—gathered in Boyer 131 to watch the second Republican National Debate.They bonded over pizza, snacks, and their favorite presidential candidates.
As the lights dimmed, and the candidates began to speak, a hush came over them—and when it ended, they said their goodnights and returned to their rooms. But the debate did not end there–in fact, it is still going on.
Twenty-three million Americans tuned into CNN Wednesday night, and millions more took to the Internet the following morning, reading articles and watching highlights. The web is abuzz with opinions and reactions to what has been the biggest political event of the election cycle so far.
Eleven Republicans took the stage, including newcomer Carly Fiornia. The two-hour debate saw much bickering, but little actual talk on policy. The hot-button issues covered surprised nobody: Planned Parenthood, ISIS, the Iraq War, Obama, and immigration.
Brief attention was paid to topics like raising the minimum wage and the War on Drugs, but the candidates seemed uninterested in protracted discussion. Other matters, such as race relations and student debt, went unmentioned entirely. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted in exasperation, “Have you heard anyone use the word “poverty” yet? 47.7 million Americans living in poverty. No discussion.”
“I think one of my biggest overall frustrations is the overemphasis people put on the presidency,” says James Mueller, a junior history major. “Most of these candidates wear an over-the-top, Reagan-wanna-be, ultra-leader-of the world persona. When, in reality, the office of the presidency was never meant to cater to the Messiah-like status ascribed to it.”
Mueller echoes a sentiment felt by many scholars and commentators, a rising discontent with the political establishment and its fundamental misunderstanding of history, law, and the Constitution.
Jeremiah McCoy, a sophomore politics major, had much to say on the matter. Expressing his disappointment with the GOP’s wasted opportunities, he said, “The Republican Debate failed on many levels, but it was really unsuccessful in regards to one thing the GOP required. They did not convince voters that an ‘outsider’ can run the government.
This is a notion that is extremely important when the top three front-runners are non-career politicians. The debate could have been the persuasion cautious voters of this new anti-establishment movement really needed.”
Not everyone had a negative outlook, however. “The debate covered some really important issues that I personally will be looking at when I choose who to vote for,” shares Rebekah Glick, junior Politics major. Still, she admitted that the candidates did little to promote their cause, continuing, “With people threatening government shut downs over ideological issues, I feel like our politicians are doing a good enough job of showing Americans how this extreme partisanship makes the government unreliable and questionable.”
Of course, Trump was still a much talked about candidate. “Part of me thought he was hilarious, but the other part was upset because I feel like his idea of how politicians should behave themselves kind of made a mockery of our political system,” says Glick.
The billionaire real-estate magnate, who has dominated the polls in recent months, spent much of his airtime making jabs at fellow Republicans—not-so-subtly calling Rand Paul ugly within the first five minutes of the debate, and squabbling with rival Jeb Bush at every opportunity.
Despite Trump’s bombast, he did not come away the night’s victor. The title, according to the blogosphere, has been awarded to Carly Fiorina, whose determination and steely resolve won over many moderate viewers. “I appreciated how thoroughly Carly Fiorina responded about dealing with Putin and the Middle East,” Glick said, adding afterwards, “but I strongly disagree with her foreign policy tactics.”
Others—like McCoy—were less impressed, commenting, “I think her preparation consisted of watching wartime movies.”
Regardless of whether or not important policy issues were covered, the debate was successful in one aspect: it got millions of Americans talking about politics. In an age where voter turnout hovers around 50%, much lower for younger generations, the old adage holds true—there’s no such thing as bad press. Anything that gets the American people talking, and more importantly, voting, should not be dismissed as an utter failure.