CLEVELAND — Voters called Tuesday night’s contentious first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden an ugly embarrassment — one that may have some undecided voters tilting toward Biden.
“It was a mess,” said lawyer Anthony Amato from North Royalton, a GOP-leaning suburb of Cleveland.
“I expected to Trump to come out aggressive, as he did,” added Amato, a Democrat who has two college-aged kids and who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “He tried to throw Joe off his game. But Joe did a good job of talking directly to the American people.”
He doubted the ugly back-and-forth over 90 minutes would change any minds, saying, “I just can’t conceive how someone could be undecided right now. It’s beyond my comprehension.”
Elaine Yonek, a teacher from the Cleveland suburbs and a Democrat, called the debate “embarrassing,” “upsetting” and a “free-for-all” — but also said she didn’t think it would move the dial one way or the other.
“Everybody I know is one side or the other,” she said.
Cyndi Schillinger, a mother of two from the suburbs who voted for Clinton, said she missed having a president she could consider a role model for her kids.
“To see him just arguing and yelling and lying last night, even my kids who are 9 and 12 are like, ‘How does a human act like this?'”
She said they shut off the microphones when the other person is talking in future debates. “My children have to do that when they do virtual learning,” Schillinger said.
She also predicted no minds would be changed, but some undecided voters at a debate panel outside of Cleveland said they were now tilting toward Biden.
“If you’re going to ask me who won the debate, I don’t think either one won. They danced around, called each other names, were disrespectful,” said Ohioan Norma Wible, told MSNBC’s Chris Jansing after watching. She added that their performances “would edge me a little more towards Biden, but not much.”
Outside a Walmart store in Youngstown, Raymond Duffett, an orthopedic surgeon and a “firm Trump supporter,” said the president should keep a cooler head in the next debate.
“I watched every minute and did not learn anything,” he said, adding, “There should be only one mic for both of them and they have to take turns.”
Jesse Winland, who was driving a white pickup truck with pro-2nd Amendment stickers and the words “hillbilly deluxe” written across back, said he leans Trump but “I don’t like either of them.”
He said the debate was “the worst one I’ve ever seen….nothing said was worth listening to.”
“Trump just needs to keep his mouth shut….He likes to run his mouth too much,” Winland said.
Winland, who works on a horse farm, sells produce and trades Hot Wheels cars from his collection of over 30,000, complained that neither candidate “said anything about how they’re going to help working people.”
At a debate watch party in Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd’s death under the knee of a police officer set off protests against racism and police brutality, voters said they were disturbed by the president’s comments about their city, and his failure to condemn white supremacists who’ve been causing havoc.
Laura Hedlund said she was disgusted by what she saw on stage from the president, and singled out his remark that the far right extremist group the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by.”
“The fact that he didn’t even call out the Proud Boys, that he did not diminish the white supremacy, any of the violence that’s happening — it’s almost like he wants those to be his army. And that’s not democracy,” Hedlund said.
“The death of George Floyd was a tragedy” and “a moment of reckoning for all of us,” she said. “I think what was so hard about watching that videotape is the total disregard for another human being. And I think you also saw that in Donald Trump’s presentation today — total disregard for people who are not of his tribe.”
Hedlund said the country needs “an American president that’s for all Americans — blue states, red states. We need unity…that’s what I think people are craving.”
Another attendee, Aaron Tiesel, said he thinks Trump has “convinced himself of a false narrative of what exactly happened in Minneapolis, that there was some sort of onslaught and an assault by antifa, and these left wing boogeyman, and that the cops in the National Guard took the city back when it really didn’t happen.”
Tiesel acknowledged “there was some bad stuff going on” during the protests, but said the president “has yet to comprehend that there’s a difference between the protesters and the folks that were there just to start stuff and burn things down.”
Alex Seitz-Wald reported from Ohio, Shaquille Brewster from Minnesota and Dareh Gregorian reported from New York.