Ray Friend thought debate set up to fail.

San Benito County Republicans came together Sept. 16 at Ridgemark Golf and Country Resort to watch and listen to the three-hour presidential debate between the 11 of the top-tier candidates on CNN. Because of a last-minute change in time of the broadcast, those attending the debate party, drifted in as the sometimes rowdy event unfolded.  

As they sipped cold coffee and munched on finger foods and eyed red-and-blue-elephant-decorated cupcakes, they quickly tuned into what some in the room felt was more about TV ratings than a debate. There was a general consensus that moderator, Jake Tapper, was more concerned about “good television” as he asked how one candidate felt about another candidate’s comments about them, rather than focusing on any particular topic.

One of the first comments the room reacted to was from former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, when he quipped, “None of us are socialists or are under investigation by the FBI,” referring to Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. And eyes rolled a bit at Donald Trump’s statement that he wasn’t being “braggadocious.”

As they watched the debate unfold, some felt the split screen approach that seemed to always include Trump on one side, was reminiscent of the infamous faceoff between Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck on “The View,” especially as Trump made faces and threw back off-the-cuff remarks during his opponents’ comments.

Raymond Friend, District 1 Hollister City Councilman, said he felt CNN’s approach to the debate was set up to make the Republican candidates fail.

“They just wanted to talk about the personal stuff and not the issues. He said you didn’t want to do this, or he said you didn’t do that,” Friend said. “They’re not debating the issues. They’re debating on what the press has reported on each one of them.”

Even though he did not like the format, Friend said he believed several of the candidates performed well.

“I think Carly Fiorina, Senator Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson have raised their stocks,” he said. “They showed how strong their beliefs are. The other ones are still, ‘when I do this’ or ‘when I do that.’ The three of them have said, ‘this is what we need to do,’ and I think they’ve made some good points.”

Friend said he felt that national defense should be top priority.

“(President Barack) Obama has taken all of the military and broken them down,” Friend said. “He signed a law just the other day the gives the military a 1.3 percent pay raise. And to a guy who is an E4, he will only get a $500 raise. That’s not a raise. That’s a joke.”

As a veteran, Friend said he thinks even more highly of Fiorina after her statement about caring for veterans as part of her overall military strategy of, “establishing 50 Army brigades, 36 Marine Corps battalions, up to 350 naval ships and sending several thousand more troops into Germany, insisting that doing so would create the strongest military on the face of the planet.’”

Mark Medina said rather than hitting issues, CNN was trying to pit the candidates against one another.

“I know that’s good for ratings, but the general public watching needs to know about the issues that each candidate is interested in or what they would do in certain situations,” he said.

Responding to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s comment that he would like to prosecute Hillary Clinton over the FBI email investigation, Medina said Clinton is treating what is a serious offense as a joke.

Francine Markle said she thought the debate was “handled very well,” and was looking forward to hearing the thoughts of her neighbors and seeing how they would react to the candidates. In commenting about the event she joked, “I wish it was on Fox.”

She said she thought Fiorina stood out in the debate.

“She’s very concise and has the details more in order than the others,” Markle said. “She handles the bully (Trump) very well. Trump scares me as the commander-in-chief because he’s a bully.”

Jack Markle said he continues to be impressed with Carson.

“I don’t agree with him on every single thing because there’s no way you can agree on everything with anybody,” he said. “I think his intellect is the most important thing in his whole persona. I agree with him that you do have to get government out of the way. I think he is against big government that’s chilling the country in so many ways. We’ve got to get back to the basics and let the people run the country; not the country run the people.”

Before responding to questions, Rob Bernosky, former chairman and current regional vice chairman of the California Republican Party, made a disclaimer that he was not allowed to endorse any candidate.

“I believe that Carly Fiorina has done a good job presenting her opinions and dealing with Donald Trump,” he said, adding that he thought Trump’s stock had diminished. “I wasn’t as impressed with him in this debate as I had been during the first debate.”

Of the issues that were brought up during the debate, Bernosky felt states’ rights were paramount.

“When they were talking about forcing federal laws on marijuana states that have endorsed recreational use, that discussion goes all the way back to Abraham Lincoln, the founder of the Republican Party, where slavery was, to him, a states’ rights issue,” he said. “He struggled with admitting new states to the union and about whether they would be slave or free states, and what you did with slaves who left slave states to go to the free states, and what rights the states had to claim what they thought of was theirs.”

Bernosky said states’ rights issues go to the core of the foundation of the nation. Being a Rand Paul supporter on states’ rights issues, he said, “What is not specifically enumerated as a power to the U.S. government, it can’t cover.”

He said, though, that he parts from Paul on national defense. “The United States has a role unique to any other country,” he said. “It is our Navy that keeps the sea lanes of commerce open around the world. So, no, I do not agree with Rand Paul on issues such as that because we are an exceptional nation and that gives us a special role.”

Bernosky said he agreed with many attending the debate watch party about CNN’s approach.

“Clearly, this moderator is biased toward something because he keeps saying Donald Trump says this or says that. The moderator should ask relevant questions and then get the opinion of each individual and not be focused on trying to start a fight between Donald Trump and 10 others who are up there.

“But as far as the (political) process, I love it. This is the United States of America and nowhere else would have this many people running for president and take them seriously. I suspect the numbers will go down by a huge number after tonight. The 1 and 2 percenters (in the polls) will probably end up dropping out, as Rick Perry did.”

Of the 11 candidates, Bernosky said he felt that Ben Carson didn’t do much good for himself, nor did he do any harm.

“I think he stayed about the same,” he said. “Ben Carson is a very intelligent person and very mild mannered and I don’t know if that style, especially in contrast to Carly Fiorina or Donald Trump or Chris Christie, will help him.”

 Jenny Bernosky, Robert’s wife, said she found the debate interesting, with each candidate demonstrating good points.

“Of course, we want somebody to act on those points and do something about what needs to be down for our country,” she said. “A lot of people are talking about Ben Carson because he’s a real person, but I’m not sure who the standout is. There are some who don’t stand out.”

As a Republican woman, she said she doesn’t fall in line with recent polls that declared many favor Donald Trump.

“I’m not impressed with Donald Trump,” she said. “The whole autism thing, (me) being an educator I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about. I want him to talk about things he knows something about. There are bigger issues than vaccines.”

She said her family has looked at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but said she doesn’t know enough about Walker yet to vote for him. She found it interesting that the candidates talked about Ronald Reagan.

“Reagan did something right, so if someone can emulate what he did I think our country will be in a good place,” she said. “He wasn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican.”

John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...