Damon Winter / The New York Times

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump shake hands at the start of their presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

September 29, 2016

Cornell Dems Call Clinton Debate Victor, Repubs Regret Johnson’s Absence

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After one of the most watched presidential debates in history, Cornell Democrats reaffirmed their support for Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton while members of Cornell Republicans expressed regret that Gary Johnson was barred from participating.

Troy LeCaire ’17, co-founder and co-president of Cornell Political Union, said Clinton’s composure and preparedness won her the debate, while Trump’s untraditional approach may have been damaging.

“It can sometimes be hard to predict how the public will react to presidential debates, but in this case the outcome is clear: Hillary won the debate,” he said. “Clinton appeared level-headed, displayed a strong grasp of the issues, and [stuck] to the messages that worked best … In contrast, Trump became visibly frustrated as the debate wore on, interrupting Clinton, shouting ‘Wrong!’ into the microphone several times.”

LeCaire said he thinks most voters have already decided what candidate they support and were likely not swayed by the debate, but said Clinton’s success may have helped her gain a small, valuable lead.

“Presidential elections are often decided by a few points, and debates have the potential to swing the election by a slim but deciding margin,” he said. “Expect a small two-to-four point bump for Clinton in the next week or so.”

The Cornell Republicans viewed the debate as more of a stalemate. Chair Olivia Corn ’19 said she was not surprised by the debate, and expressed her disappointment with both parties’ nominees. Executive Director Austin McLaughlin ’18 said that Clinton “managed to interject at least some policy points.”

“In my opinions, both candidates appealed to their base and reinforced voters’ preexisting views,” Corn said. “Trump emphasized that this was a change election and Clinton emphasized that Trump lacks the qualification to be president. However, I felt that I was watching an argument between two 10 year olds instead of a presidential debate. The fact that these two individuals are our presidential candidates still baffles me.”

McLaughlin added he was disturbed by Clinton shift still farther to the left in economic policy.

“The debate indicated to me that Hillary Clinton is not the moderate she has portrayed herself to be,” he said. “She discussed wealth inequality as if taking a page from Bernie Sanders’ playbook. Unfortunately, her progressive rhetoric has only become more left-leaning as a result of Bernie, which has left me feeling even more turned off by her candidacy. ”

McLaughlin said he is “jaded by this election cycle” and Corn said that the debate did not change her views on either candidate, except to “further [her] hatred of Clinton.”

Both expressed their support of Libertarian Gary Johnson, who the Cornell Republicans have endorsed. They agreed that it was unfair that — although the candidate has been polling nationally within a margin of error of 15 percent, and above 20 percent in some states — he was not permitted to participate in the debate. The Commission on Presidential Debates requires candidates to poll a minimum of 15 percent in five national surveys before they are allowed to debate.

McLaughlin said Johnson would have offered a valuable point of view if he had been allowed to debate, and criticized the CPD for dismissing third-party options.

“Having Johnson as the voice of reason on that stage I think would have caused Americans to give him a real chance,” he said. “But he was preemptively denied by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private non-profit run by Republicans and Democrats with no vested interest in entertaining a third party on the stage.”

Kevin Kowalewski ’17, the president of the Cornell Democrats, said that the debate showed that Trump is “erratic,” “incompetent,” and unprepared for the presidency,identifying Clinton as the clear winner.

“Hillary Clinton was calm, knowledgeable, and eloquently put forth her plan for our country,” he said. “The debate was one of the most watched in American history, and polls show that Hillary Clinton decisively won.”

According to Kowalewski, the debate allowed Clinton to build her lead in the race.

“The race remains competitive,” he said. “But after Monday night, I’m increasingly confident that we’re headed for a Clinton victory in November.”

The Cornell Democrats plan to travel to Pennsylvania to canvas for Clinton, Kowalewski said.

“The Cornell Democrats are committed to action,” he said. “We will do whatever it takes to prevent Trump from becoming president.”
Irvin McCullough ’18, First Vice Chair of the Cornell Republicans, said he would like to see Clinton asked more challenging questions by the moderator in future debates.

“I’d like to see a moderator ask each candidate very pointed questions,” he said. “Donald Trump was asked follow-up questions six times, while Hillary Clinton was never grilled with that kind of scrutiny.”

LeCaire said he would be interested to hear more questions involving foreign policy in the next debate and expects Trump to prepare more intensively.

“I’d like to hear more questions on foreign policy, especially regarding the crisis in Syria. I expect the next two debates — if Trump participates — to be less decisive,” he said. “Trump hates losing, so I could see him finally putting his nose to the grindstone and preparing.”

LeCaire also said he expects Clinton’s strategy to remain unchanged, given her success during the debate.

“I expect Clinton to plug along, business as usual,” he said. “Her strong debate performance will go a long way to quiet the nerves of some on the left who watched her poll numbers fall steadily since her post-convention highs.”