After having watched the first presidential debate with liberals in San Francisco, I was curious what the second debate would be like in a room full of conservatives. It was then that I called up the Marin GOP Election Headquarters to reserve a spot for their debate watch party this past Sunday.
I found it necessary to shed my own identity as a Clinton supporter, and instead donned a bright red polo shirt to fully adopt the aura of a Trump crusader, as I believed people would be more forthcoming with their opinions about Trump with me. With this identity, however, I have chosen to censor out any interviews, as it would not be fair to the interviewee.
My job that night was to be an observer, and I intended to watch the second debate as if I was a conservative, since I feel as if there is a lack of understanding among liberals concerning supporters of Trump. While I strongly condemn and disagree with his rhetoric, I am as much concerned about the polarization of our politics. San Francisco is indeed a bubble that I hoped to pop.
An hour before the debate, my friend Mustafa and I made our way across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the knobbly, green hills of Marin County. We drove into Novato, a city in northern Marin County, eventually rolling into a cul-de-sac that would reveal what we had been looking for: a building adorned in randomly assorted Trump banners, posters, and American flags. Heading up the stairs of the musty office building, we were greeted in the lobby by a gathering of hospitable and eager voters milling around sporting “Make America Great Again” t-shirts. The demographics of the headquarters was a culture-shock coming from USF, yet predictable for Marin County. With a median age ten years older than that of the rest of California, Mustafa and I were the youngest attendees of the watch party; almost 30 years younger than anyone else. Looking around the room, it was apparent that the diversity in the room was lacking. We were surrounded by the old, white vestiges of Novato. We were approached a few times with the question: “You both are so young… do you even support Trump?” It was as if they thought someone our age could never support him.
There was an electric excitement in the air as the clock counted down to the start of the debate. This crackling optimism refused to be dampened by the damaging news of a tape released by the Washington Post two days prior, with Trump having been caught saying sexually suggestive comments, some amounting it to sexual assault. I had been expecting was a group of supporters in low spirits, especially after the revelation of the tape. What I found were smiling faces and gleeful comments about Trump making a comeback from the first debate. The spirit leading up to the final minutes before the debate was obvious: unabiding loyalty to Trump.
Civility was lowered by both candidates even before questions were asked. As Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper called out the two presidential candidates, both came out in a cautious crawl, and no handshake was seen. After a tame set of opening statements between Clinton and Trump, Cooper brought up what everybody, Republicans and Democrats, had on their minds: the leaked tapes released last Friday. No apology was heard; Trump dismissed the tapes as nothing more than “locker room banter,” and swiftly turned the attention to defeating the Islamic State. Clinton retorted by stating the leaked video was in fact the real Donald Trump. After another question regarding the tape, the moderators and town hall attendees never mentioned it again. Within the Marin County headquarters room, I encountered a ubiquitous rebuttal for Trump’s behavior in the tape from multiple audience members: Bill Clinton’s past. To my chagrin, many supporters in the room followed along with Trump’s dismissal of the incident as “locker room banter.”
The most thunderous applause of the night was heard about one third of the way through the debate. When asked about her email scandal, Clinton deftly defended herself by apologizing, as well as acknowledging certain misconceptions regarding the misconduct. She then turned the conversation towards Trump’s character, cooly stating that “It is just awfully good someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.” Trump quickly replied, “Because you’d be in jail.” Supporters hollered and the room rumbled; justice was to be served under a Trump presidency.
The hardest point in the debate to fathom was when each candidate was asked about the situation in Aleppo. As the moderator started to mention the five year-old Syrian boy found in rubble, there was an audible shout from the audience: “Who cares!” People laughed and shrugged the question off–it was clearly not their priority. The supporters were as careless and garrulous in their words as their own candidate.
As the debate carried on, there was an observable amount of calm that settled over the supporters in the room, some yawning, others checking their phones. Trump was recognizably different than his distracted, disorganized self in the first debate, where Clinton was visibly able to get under his skin. While she stood strong against attacks on her husband and foreign policy decisions, Trump’s aggression was precise and hard-hitting this time, which his opponent was visibly not prepared for.
With the debate’s closing question, each candidate was asked to state one positive quality they found in their opponent. Clinton was evidently taken by surprise at the question, as she fumbled to articulate that she was proud of Trump’s children. Despite Trump’s hostility throughout the night, he noted Clinton’s devotion to her work. “She doesn’t quit, she doesn’t give up. I respect that.” he stated. Satisfaction with Trump’s performance streamed through the crowd.
Upon leaving Trump Headquarters in Marin, I was struck by the jubilation in the building post-debate. The last two weeks have been the most damaging period of his campaign. Between the partial release of Trump’s tax returns, and the leaked tape, I was expecting supporters to be questioning of their candidate. I was wrong. The unwavering allegiance to Trump was clear. It seemed that no matter what came out of his past, supporters were going to stand by him and defend him. What was also evident was a need for justice, particularly in regard to Clinton’s past misconducts. Most astonishing were the soaring cheers heard after Trump’s comments about her being in jail. Between the unabiding defense of their candidate and the inextricable want for justice, a clear picture of the modern day Republican formed: Trump is the law and order candidate, and his supporters embody these very characteristics.
Those of us who live in San Francisco–a blue-tinted bubble–have a hard time understanding anything else besides our own political views. While I cringed at almost every applause offered for Trump’s debate performance, I attempted to be in the shoes of someone who supported him. I do urge everyone to take a gander across the Golden Gate Bridge before this November. It is crucial that as a country, we come one step closer to understanding each other, and exposure is the only way to do so.
Header Photo Credit: MUSTA CAK/ FOGHORN
Body Photo Credit:Gabriel Greschler