LITITZ, Pennsylvania — Hundreds of Trump supporters came out to a watch party in Pennsylvania to witness the first debate between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and what they got was two men “bickering.”
“I think that the American people were greatly disserved tonight by the lack of civility between both gentlemen,” said Joseph Madagan of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, who attended the watch party here during Tuesday night’s presidential debate. “The overtalking was unproductive and was, I believe, certainly counterproductive.”
By the start of the debate, the patches of grass under the tent had become a mass of slippery mud from a sudden downpour. The sea of red MAGA hats mixed with Amish straw hats and kapps — a sheer bonnet worn by Amish women. The crowd had dwindled to half its size from an hour before, when hundreds more had cheered on Vice President Mike Pence who visited to pump up predebate excitement.
But as people sat and listened attentively to a 90-minute debate that careened out of control very early on, attendees cringed at the uncomfortable jabs thrown by both candidates, a new visual on the typically raucous Trump campaign.
“I was praying,” said Betty Rosales, who had been clutching her head as she looked onto the two jumbo screens on stage. “I expected it to be heated but not to the extent that it was. I'm disappointed as an American voter.”
Rosales told BuzzFeed News she loves the president and does hope he wins, but she thought “there were times he went overboard.”
Attendees raced out of the tent after the debate and into the rain with makeshift ponchos and Trump/Pence signs for cover. It was a contrast from earlier in the day, when people on the farm waiting for the main event lined up in front of trucks that sold barbecue and milkshakes in what looked like a county fair. Those who stayed for the debate cheered at the president’s zingers and booed Biden. And while folks at the start of the evening said they were looking to see Biden stumble, by the end of the night, no one that BuzzFeed News talked to mentioned Biden’s mental capacity, but rather the chaos between the two men.
“I know President Trump interrupted a lot,” Priti Shukla told BuzzFeed News. But the 37-year-old from Tampa, Florida, who says she follows the president throughout the country, is sticking by her candidate. “I mean, I'm still supporting him. I’m still behind him.”
“I tried to get as much as I could, but it was a little bit of a challenge with the president speaking and then the vice president, and kind of both talking over each other sometimes. It was hard to understand.”
Maryanne Yackel made the trip from Philadelphia to support the president.
“There was a lot of back and forth bickering in their own way,” Yackel said. But the hostility between the two candidates didn’t change her mind and she came to see what she wanted to see — “a very current and on the ball” Trump.
Like others BuzzFeed News talked to, the sense of camaraderie and meeting other Trump supporters was still worth the trip, even through a torrential rainstorm.
Some of the hundred or so stragglers who braved the chilly night said they didn’t learn anything new, and some seemed annoyed at Biden’s suggestion that Trump was handed a good economy. But even those diehards, like Tim Pastula, 54, said the candidates “should stop interrupting each other.”
Paul Warne expressed the same sentiment.
“I knew that Trump would come out kind of bellicose and interrupting a lot,” Warne said. “We knew that going in. He didn't surprise me there.”
Edward X. Young, who traveled about 140 miles from New Jersey, called it “the most unusual presidential debate” he'd ever seen. Young — who sported a white MAGA hat and several pro-Trump pins, including one that said “BARRON 2052” — likened the debate to a professional wrestling match.
“At times it seemed more like WWE,” he said.