Takeaways From a GOP Debate Watch Party in CA, a Stone's Throw From the Reagan Library

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

On Wednesday night, I attended a Ventura County Republicans debate watch party in Simi Valley—just down the street from the Reagan Library where the GOP presidential debates were being held—to gauge reactions among viewers.

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These days, most people think that any residents left in the Golden State are wild-eyed progressives hell-bent on destroying the American way of life as we know it, and they’re partially right—there are plenty of them here, especially in the big cities, and unfortunately they hold the reins of power right now. But there are also over 5 million Republicans in the state that produced Ronald Reagan, and they’re still passionate, so I was curious to see how they reacted to the candidates. 

I live-tweeted the moments that stuck out to me. (For full debate coverage, see RedState's Jennifer Oliver O'Connell's excellent recap.) 

Both entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started out with strong statements, but it was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who created the first real stir in the room when he went after former President and current GOP front-runner Donald Trump for not showing up. 

Meanwhile, Chris Christie's jokes like calling Trump "Donald Duck" and former Vice President Mike Pence's mentioning that he has slept with a teacher (his wife) for 38 years landed with thuds, at least from the groans I heard:

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"Cheesy," a man sitting at my table said about Christie's attempts at humor. The other thing that really stuck out to me is that viewers at this watch party seemed turned off by the constant interruptions by virtually all the candidates, but especially South Carolina's Tim Scott and Nikki Haley.

"I can't hear a darn thing," grumbled a man at a nearby table. 

At the end of the evening, co-host and Ventura County Republican Party member Lindsey Stetson polled the room. Ron DeSantis received by far the loudest cheers, followed by Haley, which surprised me. The rest all received a smattering of applause, except for Pence and Christie—who were both roundly booed. 

Stetson asked how many attendees supported Trump before the debate. Most hands in the room flew up. "Did anyone change their mind afterward?" No, was the resounding answer. 

It appears that Trump was right to not show up—he still won the night.

I've watched most debates over the years with family and friends, but it was really cool to be part of a group of politically involved citizens and see how viewers were reacting in real-time. My guess is that what we witnessed was likely echoed by many Republicans all over the country.

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I did think there was one surprise winner—and I don't mean of the debate, I just mean that he improved his stock on the national stage. It was North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who had some solid answers and was a confident presence.

My wife Roxanne and I summed up our thoughts, and we both agreed that this was more of a job fair for potential Trump cabinet officials or even VP than it was a serious fight for the actual presidency:


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