As has been the case with the last two Republican debates, Trump’s opening comments triggered wild reactions from both liberal and conservative students gathered to watch from the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum.
While business mogul Trump’s brusque, unapologetic personality and meteoric rise in the polls has fueled a media firestorm over the past several months, several students present said they were holding out for a more serious debate than the field has seen so far.
“I want to hear what they are going to do for this country, not why the other guy has funny looking hair or a bad face,” said Sapna V. Rampersaud ’19, who added that she does not think the Democratic Party has taken the Republican field seriously, something she attributed directly to Trump’s lead in the race so far.
Harvard Republican Club President Aaron I. Henricks ’16, for his part, said: “I hope that we talk about the problems and not personalities,” just before the first candidate—Jeb Bush—took to the stage to supportive cheers from the crowd gathered at the IOP.
During introductions, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas drew snickers from students for joking that he may not be the politician the average American would feel comfortable having a beer with, but that he could be the one to “drive you home.”
Though opening statements from many of the candidates elicited jeers and jokes from Harvard affiliates watching, the debate took a decidedly more presidential tone following what several in the crowd considered breakout performances by Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
“Rubio is having a strong night,” Andrew B. Pardue ’16 said halfway through the debate. “Ted Cruz had a moment where he went after the media...and got a big audience reaction,” he added, referring to Cruz’s confrontation with the CNBC debate moderators over what he saw as a string of unfairly left-leaning questions.
The crowd, typically chatting lightly during the debate, listened intently during Ben Carson’s remarks. In recent days the surgeon has propelled himself to the top of the Republican field, branding himself as the anti-Trump—thoughtful and careful with words—unlike the big-talking Trump.
While the forum responded loudly to several of Trump’s early remarks, his central talking points and trademark attacks on other candidates appeared to fall flat as the debate wore on. “Trump hasn’t really stood out tonight,” observed Evan M. Bonsall ’19, a self-described Democrat.
Also on the other side of the political spectrum, members of the Harvard College Democrats’ policy and publicity team live-tweeted the debate. “We want to make sure none of the really scary things that we’re hearing tonight gets enacted,” said Jacob R. Carrel ’16, president of the political group.
A Dictionary of Media BiasRules of rhetoric set out that you tackle the message rather than trying to shoot the messenger. Unfortunately they don’t hold for audiences who haven’t internalized those rules.
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