Pitt students react to first debate


Pitt students watch the first presidential debate Monday night. Stephen Caruso / Senior Staff Photographer

By Rachel Glasser / Staff Writer

When Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was asked why she thought she could create jobs better than Republican candidate Donald Trump, she addressed her opponent by saying, “Donald, it’s good to be with you.”

In New York, Trump nodded in response. In Pittsburgh, students in Posvar Hall erupted into laughter.

About 130 students gathered in Posvar Hall Monday night to watch the first presidential debate in the 2016 election. The Pitt Political Science department partnered with Pitt Democrats, Pitt Republicans and the Political Science Student Association to organize the screening, a discussion and commentary from fellow students and faculty. During the hour and a half debate, presidential candidates Trump and Clinton clashed on jobs, taxes and cybersecurity.

Lester Holt, the anchor of NBC Nightly News, moderated the debate, which was held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Back in Pittsburgh, the muffled chewing of pizza and whispered commentary filled the hushed lecture hall all night. Loud protests at the occasional buffering of the live PBS stream mixed with cheers when students could check off items like “Vladimir Putin,” “President Obama” and “Birtherism” on provided presidential debate bingo cards.

Occasional laughter, groans and gasps filled the room in response to Clinton and Trump’s jabs at each other, sprinkled with applause in response to the candidates’ policies and strong rhetoric.

Taylor Thornton, a first-year who wants to be a political science major, takes in the debate. Alyssa Abaloz | Staff Photographer

The segments of the debate ––  Achieving Prosperity, America’s Direction and Securing America ––  covered topics such as job creation, race relations in the U.S., the birther movement and the Iran nuclear deal. But the debate’s flow was scattered with interruptions, references to fact checkers and jabs at previous comments and stances on issues.

Holt asked Trump early on in the night about how he has yet to release his tax returns, despite presidential candidates doing so for decades. In a rare moment of strength for the soft-spoken moderator, Holt countered Trump’s response that he’s waiting out a routine audit to release the returns.

After Holt told Trump he was allowed to release his tax returns during an audit, Trump said he would release his tax returns after Clinton released her 33,000 emails. Trump’s snappy reference to Clinton’s email scandal garnered applause from the back of the room in Posvar.

In regards to job creation and tax decreases for the wealthy, Trump said he plans to reduce taxes for companies as well as small and big businesses by 35 to 15 percent.

“That’s going to be a job creator like we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan,” Trump said in the debate. “It’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch. Companies will come. They will build. They will expand. New companies will start. And I look very, very much forward to doing it.”

In response, Clinton said Trump’s tax plan would not only be “trickle-down economics all over again” but its “most extreme version” ––  which she dubbed “trumped-up trickle-down.” Her response was met with more snickering from Pitt students.

Before the debate began, the political science department conducted an online poll to determine student stances on the candidates and results –– including the performance of the moderator and the debate’s winner.

According to the poll, this was the first presidential election where the majority of the 95 attendees who participated were eligible to vote. The same percentage of attendees ––  87 percent –– had already made up their mind on who they were going to vote for.

Another poll done at the end of the debate reported 74 percent of the attendees felt Clinton won the debate. The poll also reported 72 percent of the attendees surveyed had a more favorable view of Clinton after the debate, and 62 percent had a less favorable view of Trump.

Dr. Meri Long, lecturer and advisor in the political science department who helped organize the event, said that although Trump met expectations that he would stay even-keel and share the stage with his opponent, it looked like Clinton was the winner.

“In general, [Clinton] came across as calmer, more confident,” Long said. “[Trump] came across as more flustered at times.”

Kait Pendrak, president of the Political Science Student Association, said Clinton presented a stronger argument than Trump, but that didn’t necessarily earn her the win.

“Given the short time to reflect, I don’t really think there was a clear winner, just because not a lot was said that was new,” Pendrak, a junior political science and philosophy major, said.

A poll at the end of the debate of the room found that viewers thought Clinton had won the debate. Stephen Caruso | Senior Staff Photographer

After discussing tax plans, Trump and Clinton’s discussion on NAFTA –– an 1994 agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada to remove tax barriers between the countries –– and the Trans-Pacific Partnership also garnered a reaction from the room.

For Pendrak, Trump’s biggest problem is his inability to offer an alternative to plans and policies already in place that he “bashes.”

Although he still didn’t open up about any of his “secret” plans, Pendrak, who supports Clinton, said Trump was well-composed compared to past appearances.

“He was a little bit more on-point,” Pendrak said. “But when I say on-point, I don’t mean he was actually on-point.”

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