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How did the first presidential debate go? Penn State students give their takes

presidential debate AP photo

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took the 2020 presidential debate stage for the first time Tuesday night in Cleveland, Ohio, eliciting strong reactions from Penn State student voters.

Chris Wallace, the news anchor of Fox News Sunday, moderated the 90-minute event that covered six topics with the candidates: the Supreme Court, the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, race and violence in cities, candidates’ records, and election integrity.

At one point, Trump said he “brought back” Big Ten football amid the pandemic.

According to the New York Times, “the chaos of the event has left allies and rivals alike questioning the state of American democracy and the country’s place on the global stage.”

Penn State student Amiya Jennings agreed.

“Oh, God, it was awful,” Jennings (sophomore-public relations). “There’s not even anything of substance to talk about or take away from it.”

Jennings said as an independent she sees both political sides, but the debate pushed her in Biden’s direction.

“I think both candidates did not do any debating whatsoever, and there were a lot of personal attacks by both parties,” Jennings said. “It was just horrible to watch… It kind of just aired out for me that they’re both awful candidates.”

She said she’s considering voting for a third party candidate, but is worried about possibly wasting her vote.

“Generally, we’re all screwed in my opinion,” Jennings said. “This is the first election I will be voting in, and it’s kind of sad these are the options.”

Jennings said she liked what Biden said about the environment because she thinks global warming and climate change are a “big deal” and that there “can’t be an economy if there is no environment.”


She added that she can’t support Trump, because she said she is mixed.

She said both candidates refused to answer certain questions and instead resorted to personal attacks.

“It showed that both candidates are unfit to be in the office,” Jennings said. “I thought [the personal attacks] were very unprofessional.”

Jennings said though both candidates avoided questions, Biden answered them “much better” than Trump did.

“It’s completely ethically and morally wrong to attack someone else’s child on national television,” Jennings said about Trump’s remarks of Biden’s son during the debate. “He talked about Antifa and the left when he was asked about white supremacy.”

Jennings hopes the vice presidential debate next week will be “more productive.”

“It was just an argument between three old men — or toddlers, if you will,” Jenning said. “I wish they talked more about policy instead of their personal vendettas against each other — you guys are supposed to be working for the American people and you’re here on a stage… attacking each other.”

Jared Martin also identifies as an independent and said he will “most likely” vote for a third party candidate in the 2020 presidential election.

“It’s kind of embarrassing, watching that and thinking, ‘that’s what we got,’” Martin (junior-engineering science) said. “It just frustrates me that they don’t include third parties in the debates, especially when they’re included on the ballots in so many states.”

Martin believes the debate was very “childish,” and said he felt “deflated” after watching.

“Trump felt like a bully, and Biden felt helpless, and I don’t want to vote for either as a leader of the country,” Martin said. “Not a lot of people are changing ideas this year versus previous years; this year just feels like there’s a big divide between people who support Trump [and] people who support Biden.”

Martin said there wasn’t much discussion about policy “at all.”

“I wish the Democrats had put someone forward [who was] more astute to give Trump some energy back,” Martin said. “[If you support Trump or Biden], you come out of that debate feeling less enthusiastic.”

Tim Tierney, the acting national student coordinator for the Jo Jorgensen campaign and Pennsylvania student coordinator, and Ian Self both identify as Libertarian and believe third party candidates should be represented in presidential debates, similar to Martin.

“If you looked at that debate, that’s all the reason any American needs to vote for Dr. Jorgensen,” Tierney (junior-finance) said. “Ninety minutes went by and I can’t remember a single thing other than Trump not condemning white supremacy.”

Tierney believes the debate was an indication of “how badly we need another option.”

Self (sophomore-architectural engineering) said he was disappointed by Tuesday night’s debate.


“It’s not great not seeing your party represented in debate,” Self said. “My main concern is there’s just a total lack of respect and propriety in debates nowadays. It’s just for entertainment value now [with] very few mentions of actual policy.”

Self said he would’ve liked to hear more about Trump’s and Biden’s policies, but overall, he believes Biden came out on top.

“I was really surprised by Biden’s performance in the debate. It was a much stronger showing than I expected him to have,” Self said. “Trump came off really aggressive without providing any substance to what he was saying.”

Tierney said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the first few minutes of the debate, in which Trump did not interrupt Biden.

“[There was] a little bit of civil discussion for the first few minutes, but then it became something worse than any of us could’ve imagined,” Tierney said. “Last night signified the start of the everyday American thinking about the election.”

Tierney said that Jo Jorgensen’s website went down Tuesday night because of the amount of searches it received.

According to Martin, this happened to the Green Party website as well.

Collin Price, another Libertarian, was surprised by Biden’s performance, but said he will still “probably” be voting for the Libertarian candidate.

“I think [Biden] had a particularly good performance compared to normal, and the president had a particularly bad performance compared to normal,” Price (freshman-mechanical engineering) said. “[Trump] didn’t have the typical zeal that gets people excited about him.”

Price said Trump’s “constant bickering” with Wallace “wasn’t a good look.”

“When the president brought up [Biden’s] son who passed away, I thought that was a pretty classless move,” Price said. “It left a bad taste in my mouth as I was thinking about it over the night.”

However, Price said Trump wasn’t given any “softballs,” such as “the things that the president typically wins on, like immigration policy [and] economic policy.”

Price said he feels “optimistic” about Biden and “pessimistic” about Trump moving forward.

“Biden was oddly salient, [which was] a bit out of character, but it was refreshing,” Price said. “Overall, it was a pretty pitiful showing. The idea that the American voter has to choose between either of those people is a little upsetting.”

Prior to the debate, Tanav Thanjavuru was “right down the middle” in terms of who he was planning to vote for, but post-debate, he said he now leans “way more left.”

“I’m still in shock, honestly, that these are the two candidates running for president,” Thanjavuru (sophomore-data science) said. “It put things in perspective. Before [the debate] I had no idea who to vote for.”

Thanjavuru believes Trump was being “immature” throughout the debate.

“How is this man our president?” Thanjavuru said. “I think Trump was definitely instigating and being very, very childish.”

Thanjavuru was under the impression that the debate would be “more civil” but said he’s “excited” for the next two debates.

“As of now, I think [Biden] is definitely the best candidate,” Thanjavuru said. “At one point, Trump was straight-up bullying him.”

Aryana Dadpay said she is a Republican, and that she thinks Trump’s debate performance “wasn’t shocking.”

“I wasn’t expecting anything different,” Dadpay (junior-security and risk analysis) said. “But, giving orders to white [supremacist groups] to stand [by] — I didn’t expect that one.”

Dadpay believes it was “really low” of Trump to “attack” Biden’s sons, one who served in the military and died of brain cancer, and one who had a drug addiction.

“You can’t really expect professionalism from Trump,” Dadpay said. “There were a million different ways that Biden could’ve also been petty and he didn’t; I think Joe had class.”

Dadpay said she is more of a “John McCain” Republican and said Trump is “racist” and “not even a Republican.”

“The Proud Boys worshipping Trump as their leader is so disgusting,” Dadpay said. “[They count] as domestic terrorists [because] white nationalism groups are considered threats to national security.”

Dadpay said overall, “the bar is on the ground” for the candidates in the 2020 presidential election.

At the end of Tuesday night’s debate, Wallace said, “It’s been an interesting hour and a half.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 7, Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, the vice presidential candidates in the 2020 presidential election, will debate at 9 p.m.


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