He wasn’t the first to leave early, but as Democrats sneaked through the kitchen and out the door, the tall man in the brown leather coat made a beeline for the exit.
“I can’t handle it anymore,” he said as Donald Trump attacked Hillary Clinton on a big screen at the debate watch party. “How did he ever get this far?”
About 60 Democrats gathered at the Steelworkers Local 21 union hall on Kelly Avenue in Akron Monday night. Some, full of disbelief and malcontent, followed the tall man out the door.
As the watch party began an hour before the debate Monday, Summit County Democratic Chair Jeff Fusco greeted each Clinton fan and campaigner at the door. Fusco too left early, though to nurse a cold.
Fusco told the debate watchers to grab a cold can of Budweiser or Miller Lite and a slice of pizza on a thin paper plate.
“Cheap beer. Cheap food,” Fusco joked as Republicans, also gathered with their own, bought beer from a bar in Portage Lakes.
The tall man in the leather coat, who said he’d rather not be named, couldn’t take anymore of Trump’s interruptions and illogical statements.
Did he really just say that Clinton, 68, has been battling ISIS, which took its name in 2014, for her “whole life”? Yes, he did. Heads shook in bewilderment.
The disbelief began with Trump’s economic agenda.
“He’s lying. I can’t believe this guy,” said Mike Herhold, who lives nearby in Goodyear Heights. The retired teacher and Democratic Party precinct official couldn’t swallow Trump’s argument that trade has single-handedly destroyed manufacturing in Ohio.
“He beats up on Ford all the time,” Herhold said. But when the Detroit motor company announced all small car production would move to Mexico, Trump left out the part where the CEO said no jobs would be lost because the American plants would start making trucks and SUVs instead.
“The CEO said that two weeks ago,” Herhold said, dumbfounded. “If Trump is going to be president, he should know that.”
Clinton supporters relished her poise as the former Secretary of State calmly dispatched Trump’s attacks with rehearsed rebuttals and well-aimed jabs. At the pinnacle of their pleasure, she compared his slapdash debate prep with her years of handling foreign diplomats and hours preparing for the debate.
“I think Trump just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” Clinton said. “And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Applause from the crowd at Hofstra University (in Hempstead, N.Y.), which was told to remain silent throughout the televised debate, was barely audible above cheers in the union hall in Akron.
Other lines perked up the watch party audience: Clinton accusing Trump of denying climate change; manufacturing jobs growing under her husband, president Bill Clinton; Trump not paying federal income taxes.
At other times, the crowd booed Trump, who repeatedly interrupted and even stopped to question moderator Lester Holt.
“That’s called business,” Trump boasted when Clinton scolded him for betting that the housing market would collapse in 2008.
“That makes me smart,” he said of avoiding financial devastation.
Julien Johnson moved from Denver to Kent State to double major in political science and philosophy, and minor in African-American studies.
When Trump suggested stop-and-frisk, a controversial policing practice ruled unconstitutional for the profiling of minorities, could fix crime in Chicago, Johnson got up and walked out.
“Being a black man myself, and being stopped by police, I believe there has to be a bridge over what divides us as a country right now,” but adding cops to the streets of Chicago won’t fix poverty or housing, said Johnson, who while attending college has worked with police as a campus security guard.
“We’ve got to figure out what’s the issue with Chicago. What’s going on?” said Johnson. “There’s got to be a situation with the housing, the employment. If you give people jobs, they’re not going to want to commit crimes. That’s just how it is.”
America is great
As the lights turned on and the projection screen faded, Natalie Scott stood with the 40 or so who stuck around to the bitter end of the 90-minute debate. Twenty had left.
They missed Donald Trump load up his walk-off line. “I want to make America great again. We are a nation that is seriously troubled. We’re losing our jobs. People are pouring into our country …” Trump said.
Scott slid her hands behind her head and clasped them tightly together.
She felt resentment, as she usually does when Trump talks in such dire terms. To disparage the country, for Scott, is to put down those who fought to make it free then worked hard to make it great.
“We are all immigrants,” Scott said.
Scott’s Ukrainian great-grandparents defected from Joseph Stalin’s Russia. Their son, Scott’s grandfather, Charles Malachosky, defended liberty at the Battle of the Bulge. Before passing away last year, he lived a full life as a machinist and a Cuyahoga Falls councilman. His wife, whom he met in Belgium during the war, worked for Quaker Oats until the plant closed in Akron.
“When he says make America great again,” Scott said. “He’s spitting on anyone who ever worked hard to make it great.”
Click here for a recap of the Donald Trump watch party.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug.