Why these college Republicans think Trump is excelling in final debate

BOSTON — Regardless of a divisive party nominee who is struggling in the latest national polls, some college Republicans in this liberal city thought Donald Trump delivered a winning performance in the third presidential debate.

Trump and Hillary Clinton spent Wednesday night on the stage together in Las Vegas at their final official presidential debate of the campaign, with Election Day looming in less than three weeks.

The evening marked one of the final large-scale media events of the cycle for both campaigns, and local college Republicans from Northeastern University said they thought Trump got off to a good start.

Students at Northeastern University gather to watch the final presidential debate,
Ivan Levingston | CNBC
Students at Northeastern University gather to watch the final presidential debate,

Joe Frissora, president of the Northeastern University College Republicans, said he thought the debate "went fairly well" for Trump.

Noting earlier that Trump "came out calm" before "getting bolder as the night goes on," Frissora said he thought the GOP nominee did well in calling out foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation and laughing off a comment about his previously criticizing the Emmy selection process.


While Wednesday's debate started off largely civil and focused on policy before getting more heated, it was still relatively calm compared to the second debate on Oct. 9, which was a tense affair and grew bitterly personal at times.

Of the small number of college Republicans who came to the Northeastern debate watch party, most were quick to laud the start of Trump's performance. With many students in the room laughing at some of Trump's remarks, the Republicans were clearly the minority in the room.

Nafisa Kabir, a Republican club member wearing a Trump T-shirt, said she liked that Trump was taking an offensive tack and "bringing up things that people don't talk about with Hillary.

However, she did note she was "not 100 percent about his terminology" shortly after Trump said "we have some bad hombres here" while discussing immigration.

Overall, Kabir said Trump won and that he kept his poise during a debate that grew contentious toward the end. She also said Trump's statement from the debate stage in which he did not commit to accepting the results of the election was fair.

Complimenting parts of Trump's closing statement in which he called for a stronger military and improved care for veterans, Aubrey Kenderdine, the Republican club's student government association representative, also said she thought Trump won—and earlier in the debate said he was acting "very presidential."

There were some young Republicans who thought the debate did not fully go Trump's way. Olivia Lanagan, vice president of the Boston College Republicans, wrote in an email that neither candidate "outperformed the other."

"Secretary Clinton made it clear that if she is elected, the next four years will be a continuation of the last eight under Obama. She did not offer any new plans or ideas," Lanagan—who said she does not plan to vote for either major party presidential candidate—wrote. "As for Trump, this was certainly his strongest debate performance. He had several strong attacks on Secretary Clinton, and advocated for several new policy proposals... However, he hit a low point when he would not commit to accepting the results of the election."

Though the students praised Trump's performance, they were skeptical of whether it would sway any voters.

"At this point everybody's set where they are," Frissora said.



The praises of Northeastern's College Republicans stands in contrast to some broader trends. Over the course of his campaign, Trump has upended traditional political coalitions and divided elements of the Republican Party. Particularly for younger voters, his candidacy has proved particularly unattractive.


A poll conducted between Sept. 21-Oct. 3 by Circle, an organization housed at Tufts University that conducts research on political engagement among young Americans, found Clinton leading Trump among likely voters ages 18-34 by 21 points — 49 percent to 28 percent. Another poll from The Economist/YouGov conducted between Oct. 15-18 found that 54 percent of registered voters under 30 who may vote plan to cast their ballot for Clinton, compared with just 16 percent for Trump.

While Republicans traditionally struggle to attract younger voters, Trump has exacerbated that problem by seemingly turning away younger voters. In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney garnered 36 percent of voters ages 18-29, according to exit polling data. 2008's presidential race saw Republican nominee and Arizona Sen. John McCain receive 32 percent of that subset according to exit polls.

Massachusetts is among the bluest states in the country, consistently casting its electoral votes for the Democratic presidential nominee in recent cycles. However, the state does have a Republican governor in Charlie Baker, and previously elected Romney chief executive in 2002.

UPDATED: This story was updated to include reporting from the end of debate.