Tuesday night’s presidential debate — the first of three before the Nov. 3 general election — was full of chaos and likely failed to sway even undecided voters.
That’s where the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties in Clallam and Jefferson counties agree after watching President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden face off for an hour and a half in Cleveland, Ohio.
“If you were for Trump, you’re still for Trump, and if you were for Biden, you’re still for Biden,” said Jon Cooke, chair of the Jefferson County Republicans. “And I don’t think the people in the middle got anything out of it.”
Liz Bumgarner, chair of the Clallam County Democrats, agreed with Cooke, saying most voters already have their minds made up.
Still, voters deserve a true debate, not a disjointed argument that devolves into name-calling, she said.
“I know I’m speaking as a Democrat, but I wanted to hear a good debate like anyone of any party affiliation,” she said. “There’s a great deal to be said about a good debate of the issues and an airing of the candidates’ opinions.”
Marty Gilmore, chair of the Jefferson County Democrats, said if there was any value, it showcased who the candidates are as people.
But, he said, there was little value to be had as far as a debate of policies, and for that Gilmore, blamed moderator Chris Wallace for a lack of control.
“If I were on the debate commission, I would insist on allowing the moderator to have a mute button,” he said. “Let each person speak so we can hear them. I think most minds are made up, but at least we would get to hear what the candidates actually have to say.”
Bumgarner and Cooke agreed that giving the moderator the ability to turn off one candidate’s microphone in order to let the other speak would benefit everyone, with Bumgarner saying that, without such a change, “there’s no point in having any more debates.”
On Wednesday, The Associated Press reported the Commission on Presidential Debates plans to add “tools to maintain order” to its upcoming debates, which include an Oct. 7 vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.
Clallam County Republicans Vice Chair Donnie Hall, who spoke on behalf of the party in lieu of 24th Legislative District Representative candidate and party Chair Sue Forde, said muting microphones “is just going to lead to a lot more finger-pointing” and claims of bias on the part of the moderator.
Instead, Wallace should have asked simpler, more straightforward questions, Hall said.
“It’s OK to ask questions, but when you make statements inside a question, it just gets too long,” Hall said. “I could see both candidates getting frustrated by those long questions. I think they should stop trying to be participants in the debate and just do their jobs.”
By regularly chiming in during Biden’s time and arguing with the premises of Wallace’s questions, Trump showed he wasn’t interested in a true debate but instead “did everything he could to blow it up,” Gilmore said.
“It put Biden in probably the most difficult position someone could be in during a debate, where he couldn’t hardly talk,” Bumgarner said. “He could have yelled at him, but he didn’t do that. I think that was a huge accomplishment.”
Both candidates stretched the truth, engaged in name-calling and attacked each other aggressively, Cooke said.
And like Biden, Trump struggled to convey his administration’s accomplishments because “he was constantly fending off blows,” Hall said.
“I think they were both being pretty aggressive,” Cooke said. “When you call the president of the United States a clown, I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
All four local party leaders agreed their candidates’ strongest moments came when they spoke without interruption.
“I’m sure the turnout for the next debate will be much less because this one was so chaotic and hard to watch,” Gilmore said. “A different format would serve the American people better.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at [email protected].