“I turned it off after about 15 minutes.”
“The worst debate situation I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”
Puget Sound-area voters were not exactly enthused by the first presidential debate, in which President Donald Trump declined to condemn white supremacists, sought to undermine confidence in the electoral system, claimed he “got back Seattle” and interrupted former Vice President Joe Biden so incessantly that large sections of the debate verged on incomprehensible.
The revulsion comes from both liberals and conservatives in the area, but none said the debate fundamentally changed their thoughts on the election. Voters in the region skew overwhelmingly Democratic, with Trump winning just 22% of the vote in King County in 2016.
Tuesday’s debate was so chaotic and unruly — Trump interrupted Biden or the moderator at least 71 times in 90 minutes, compared to 22 interruptions from Biden, according to The Washington Post — that the Commission on Presidential Debates has already announced it will make changes to the format before the next debate.
“I hope the next debate they have a mute button so they can turn off anyone, and most probably it will be the president, so that the other person, in this case Biden, can speak,” said Laurie McEachern, a retired flight attendant who lives in Des Moines. “I felt like I was watching a bully in a schoolyard.”
McEachern, 72, said the debate had no impact on her vote and that she’s still dead set on voting for Biden. Before the 2018 elections, she stood at the corner of Marine View Drive and South 216th Street in Des Moines nearly every day for three weeks, holding a sign that said, “Stop whining, VOTE.”
She’ll do it again this year, after ballots go out, but she’s changed the sign. Now it says, “Stop REGISTER VOTE.”
“Whining was appropriate in 2018, but this year it goes far beyond whining. There’s every reason to whine, it’s not funny or cute anymore,” she said. “I’m hoping that I will give everybody else a boost to realize that they’re not alone. I’m tired of being bullied.”
Though Bill Lichty, 69, says he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, he has views that are in line with the president this year. He voted for John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. Retired in Burien from a career in management at an electronics manufacturer, he says systemic racism does not exist and climate change is “more of a religion than an actual issue.”
“I am generally conservative. I am a white, Christian, heterosexual. I’m tired of being treated like a bigot because of that,” Lichty said. Still, he said he would not be voting for Trump or Biden. He can’t abide Trump’s personality but speculates that Biden is “probably going to die in office and leave it to a California Democrat who will do more damage to this country than you can possibly imagine.”
He turned off the debate after 15 minutes.
“I was on a debating team in college and we each took our turn making our statement, we adhered to the rules and managed to get our viewpoints across,” Lichty said. “But you had two guys who agreed to the rules ahead of time and then couldn’t follow them, Trump being the worst.
“It’s his bluster, it’s the words not tied to specific facts,” he said of Trump. “There is no filter between his brain and his mouth and I don’t need to watch that.”
Robert Rhea, 72, a retired accountant in Seattle, voted for Ronald Reagan and admired President George H.W. Bush. He mostly opposes restrictions on guns and is against gay marriage. He will not be voting for Trump.
He called the debate a “brawl” and said Trump was acting like “his normal, goofy, dumb self.”
“I will definitely vote as soon as I can and I will vote for Biden, regardless,” Rhea said. “I think the Republican Party has really, really lost their way in the last four years.”
One thing no one really seemed to understand was what Trump was talking about when he mentioned Seattle during the debate.
Asked why Americans should trust him to deal with racism, Trump talked about his support from law enforcement and about sending federal agents to quell protests in Portland, and then shifted to Seattle.
“If you look at Chicago, if you look at every place you want to look, Seattle. They heard we were coming in the following day and they put up their hands and we got back Seattle,” Trump said.
He seemed to be referring to a July weekend when federal agents were deployed to Seattle, against the wishes of local leaders, but stayed largely out of sight. The weekend, nonetheless, featured some of the most violent conflicts of the summer between police and protesters. And protests have continued unabated since then.
Trump’s campaign did not respond Wednesday when asked what he meant by “we got back Seattle.” Neither did the Washington State Republican Party.
Brian Moran, the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, through a spokesperson, said he “really cannot speculate on what President Trump was referencing.”
“The President continues to invent facts about Seattle to promote his dark vision to divide America,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wrote on Twitter. “He promotes hate and has never believed in equity, justice, or the law.”
Kali Sakai, 46, thought Trump was probably referring to the federal agents. But maybe he was talking about his recent threat to cut funding to Seattle? (His previous efforts to cut funding to Seattle have been blocked by courts.) She wasn’t sure.
A stay-at-home mom and freelance writer who lives in Seattle, Sakai said the debate confirmed everything she always thought about Trump “and just put it on display in a much more spectacular way.”
When, asked to condemn white supremacists, Trump instead told the neo-fascist Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” it confirmed for Sakai that “he’s obviously very racist.”
The constant interruptions, for her, confirmed that his “mode of operations is to overwhelm and bully people.”
“He doesn’t have any ideas about what he should do to fix problems; it’s just about being right and about seeming strong,” Sakai said. “That performance should solidify in everyone’s mind that he has no business being there.”
Jessica Ramirez, 36, who works in communications for a Seattle nonprofit, called the first debate “heartbreaking.” She cooked dinner while she watched the debate, needing the distraction to keep the anxiety down and to stop her from clenching her jaw. But she still plans to watch the next two debates. It’s a historic time, she said, and she wants to be able to tell people about it someday.
The debate, Ramirez said, felt like a “loss for people who really need our government to at least somewhat work.”
She will vote for Biden, because “I don’t have a choice.”
“We live in a system that has inherently oppressed and kept people down,” she said. “I don’t believe that either of these nominees will change that, so it feels like a stuck-in-the-mud kind of situation.”
Alison Sing, 73, calls himself a Democratic-leaning independent, but he’s voted for Republicans in the past and will vote for at least one this year, down the ballot.
Retired in Lynnwood, after a career in Snohomish County government, Sing went into the debate with an open mind, looking for someone who can “reconnect the people of America.”
“He’s had four years to solve a number of problems, which I have not seen,” Sing said of Trump. “On COVID-19, we’re not getting clear answers or leadership except promising miracle stuff, which doesn’t fly.”
He wanted to hear plans from Biden but said the former vice president never got to complete his responses. He was disgusted by Trump’s attacks on Biden’s family members and, having served in the Army, he doesn’t think Trump respects troops.
“It’s a sad, sad situation for all of us to have lived through all these years. … To see all these ideals totally trashed by someone who has no respect for the honor of the country and the people who have served,” Sing said.