Across Harvard’s campus, students, professors, and affiliates crowded residential House common rooms and packed into lecture halls to watch the much-anticipated first presidential debate of the general election.
Crowds did not take long to reveal their political leanings; Clinton’s introduction was greeted with loud applause, drowning out debate moderator Lester D. Holt’s introduction of Trump, the Republican nominee. Throughout the night, the crowds expressed their approval for Clinton’s policies, while generally disapproving of Trump. At the IOP watch party, one heckler shouting that Trump is “an idiot” was met with approval from the rest of the audience.
Monday night’s debate touched on race relations with police, nuclear proliferation, NATO, and the candidates’ proposed economic plans, among other topics. The contest also featured attacks on both of the candidates’ characters, with Trump taking on Clinton for her “temperament” and “stamina” and Clinton attacking Trump for employing disrepuable business practices and propagating the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.
While a strongly pro-Clinton crowd dominated the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, the Harvard Republican Club, which earlier this year declined to endorse Trump for president, met in a smaller room next door.
“I’m happy we were able to get this room reserved,” Republican Club President Declan P. Garvey ’17 said. “Many people in here were cheering for Hillary, just a little bit quieter.”
Garvey emphasized that “the vast majority of people in this room are neither for Trump nor Clinton,” but added that he thought “Hillary did way better than Trump.”
Vice President of the Harvard Republican Club Cameron K. Khansarinia ’18 said most people in the room “weren’t rooting for either” candidate and “can’t see either [Trump or Clinton] running the country.”
Meanwhile, the Harvard College Democrats, after being turned away from the full event at the Institute of Politics, migrated to the Harvard In to watch with a group of Winthrop residents.
Devontae A. Freeland ’19, the campus outreach director for the Harvard College Democrats, said “The IOP was really crowded tonight and for those who wanted the community feel that we have here [in Winthrop] that just wasn’t possible there…. The Dems tried to organize a section [at the IOP] and they shut the doors off so more folks couldn’t enter.”
“I think they saw who was the fit person for president and who was throwing a temper tantrum up on stage,” Freeland added. “I don’t think the questions were as hard-hitting as they could have been but I do think that each candidate was actually held to answer the questions, which I do think is important just for dialogue and democracy.”
Alexandra “Sasha” Shpitalnik ’19, also a member of the Democrats, said she “thought [the debate] was a good representation of both of the candidates.”
The debate, held at Hofstra University in New York, marked the first of three debates in which Clinton and Trump will face off. Going into the debate, the former secretary of state held a 2.3-point advantage in an average of eight major polls, down from the 7.9-point advantage she held at the beginning of August.—Staff writer Nathaniel J. Hiatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nathaniel_hiatt
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