Presidential Debate Leaves Viewers Uneasy and Unmoved

Debate Watch Party

Photo by Courtney Davis: It was standing room at the presidential debate watch party in Busboys and Poets on 14th and V St.  Some in the pro-Hillary Clinton crowd said they actually fear for the future of the nation if Donald Trump is elected president.

A watch party for the first presidential debate of 2016 in Busboys and Poets, filled with Democrat Hillary Clinton supporters, gave her televised clash of ideas with Republican nominee Donald Trump the feel of a boisterous Super Bowl party.

Viewers jeered the opposing team, in this case Trump, applauded Clinton’s zingers and rebuttals and became rowdy with excitement when moderator Lester Holt corrected Trump’s assertions about a court’s ruling on the constitutionality of police stop-and-frisk tactics. 

Not a single seat was available in the restaurant, lounge and bookstore as the debate started Monday night and standing room became limited in the venue at 14th and V streets in the District’s northwest quadrant.

“Actually, I went into the debate thinking it was going to be something comical,” 46-year-old Larry Hughes said. 

One viewer denies both Hillary Clinton's and Donald Trump's qualifications for
president of the United States. Courtesy photo. 

“Both of them have done so much nonsense to where they shouldn’t be qualified to run for president, but since they both are, I came here to see the whole nonsense. She [was] under investigation by the FBI. He’s a known racist. It’s kind of crazy that we’re watching a debate with these two people. How in the hell did we end up here?” asked Hughes.

Busboys and Poets, located near the vibrant U Street corridor has an eclectic atmosphere. There are couches and coffee tables for customers to enjoy if they don’t want to sit at a traditional table. The “tribal statement” written above the bar defines the space as a place where culture and politics “intentionally collide.”

Hiya Swanhuyser, a middle-aged woman visiting the White House from the Bay Area of California said she was left in a state of fear after watching the debate.

“I am terrified that one of our candidates is a horrendous, depraved, money-hungry protector of the upper-class who is clearly a racist. I don’t like anything about this election,” said Swanhuyser.

“I am horrified and disappointed in the American people that we’ve gotten to this place. I love the idea that we will elect our first woman president, I really hope we will, but I have serious reservations of her early support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Swanhuyser.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement among 12 countries of the Pacific Rim. A number of professionals, activists, environmentalists and advocacy groups are against the treaty. During the debate, Clinton mentioned that she no longer supports the partnership.

Busboys and Poets, known for its mix of culture and politics,
displayed the primary election results in the window earlier this year.
Courtesy photo.

Both presidential candidates went into the debate with historically high unfavorable ratings among potential voters, and that sentiment was top of mind for some people at the watch party.

“It’s hard to pick either one, but I’d rather see Hillary elected,” said Hughes. “When you talk in all seriousness, that man is not qualified. In no way, shape or form or fashion is he qualified to be president of the United States.”

A CNN/ORC poll of registered voters conducted after the debate detected that Clinton’s performance helped her more than Trump’s performance helped him.  While about half the viewers polled said the debate didn’t move them one way or the other, among those who said they were influenced by the debate 34 percent said they were more likely to vote for Clinton.  About 18 percent said they were more likely to support Trump.  The poll had a plus-or-minus sampling error margin of 4.5 percent.

In Busboys and Poets, watch party viewer Thomas Feimster remained a steadfast Clinton loyalist. Feimster, middle-aged and originally from North Carolina, now works as a real estate consultant in the District. He has always supported Hillary Clinton, but the possibility of Donald Trump in office makes his confidence in Clinton much stronger.

“Donald Trump is a person that didn’t earn his way," Feimster said. "He rode on the backs of other people. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just doesn’t qualify for you to hold the highest office in the land.” 

“Excuse my saying, but there’s a lot of idiots out there that don’t know the policies, don’t know the true facts that might go with Trump. Fact for fact, I think Hillary is well qualified for the job.”