LAS VEGAS, Nevada — As the CNN Republican presidential debate took place inside the ornate Venetian theater last night, one of the many bars in the casino was tuned in.
It wasn’t exactly the preference of the bartenders, who at one point tried to change the channel to something more entertaining, but they immediately switched it back after being heckled by an audience very much plugged into the event.
As the main debate started, the bar was quickly filled with a large group of people ordering mixed drinks and beers, while others were settling into large leather couches and sipping wine as they watched the debate take place.
The audio of the television sets was just loud enough to draw a crowd of curious onlookers who paused in the hallways of the casino to see what was going on. After watching for a while, they spoke to Breitbart News about their thoughts about the presidential race during a commercial break or as they moved on their way throughout the city.
“I just lost my money,” one man named Lloyd said ruefully, stopping by the bar on his way back to his room.
He said that he had voted for Ronald Reagan but was largely turned off by Republicans after George W. Bush, although he liked his brother Jeb Bush. Lloyd quickly added that he was unlikely to support Jeb Bush, even though he appeared to be the most presidential.
“The only way I would vote for Jeb is if he comes out in a debate and says that his brother was the worst president of all time,” he said bluntly. “If he’s got that balls to say that, he’s got my vote.”
Lloyd admitted that he initially despised Trump for challenging Obama on his birth certificate, but grew to appreciate his motivations for getting into the race. He described himself as an Obama/Clinton moderate.
“I hate the way the media is trying to pinpoint him as if it’s only the NASCAR dads that are voting for him, that is so wrong,” he said, insisting that Trump’s appeal had a wider political spectrum. His controversial comments, he added, were just part of Trump’s tactics.
“People have Trump all wrong, he’s just talking like he’s negotiating,” the man said, pointing to comments thatTrump made about a conditional ban onMuslims. “That’s just his way of talking …people in the media, they get carried away.”
Another man walking by stopped in the hallway to see how the debate was going.
He explained that he was an undecided voter, but liked what Jeb Bush had to say. Trump, he argued, was not the right man to lead the country. “He has no other skills for the presidency, I think,” he added.
One couple from Chicago also paused in the hallway to see what was going on. The husband, Tom, said he was following the race “fairly close” and said he could support either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
“I can’t stand the establishment, and we need something different,” he said. “Government’s just been getting bigger and bigger and we gotta shrink government.”
When asked why he didn’t like the rest of the field, Tom signaled distrust of Jeb Bush. “I think Jeb Bush is a closet liberal to tell you the truth,” he said.
A group of four sat at one of the tables to watch the debate before moving on, although they admitted they were Democrats. When asked who was winning, one of the men shouted out “Bernie!” and one woman cried out “Hillary!” before making their way back to the casino floor. One couple of Republicans left abruptly after another woman repeatedly hollered out her approval of Ted Cruz, causing onlookers to stare.
Of the many couples who paused in the hallway, one was from Iowa; they were in Las Vegas for a quick visit. “It’s always [good] to come here this time of year because it’s really slow,” the husband, Fred, joked.
He added that they were both very informed about the race and had plenty of news coverage to follow in their home state.
“I’m hoping for Rubio, because he’s young and fresh,” he said. “He’s my favorite.”
Another couple who described themselves as independents admitted they were on opposite sides of which Republican to support.
“I’m still staying with Trump so far,” the husband Bill said sheepishly as the pair stopped by on their way to a show later that evening. “He’s been successful at everything he’s done, I think that’s what drives me to him.”
“So why does he have bankruptcies?” his wife Mary interrupted, before identifying herself as a fan of Marco Rubio. She explained that Rubio reminded her of the Kennedy days, as someone who was fresh and young.
They both described Ted Cruz as a “loose cannon” who was unfit to be president.
“If it were Ted Cruz, I would vote for Hillary Clinton,” she said.
Another couple from Colorado, who were in Las Vegas on a work trip, paused to watch some of the footage.
“I like Trump, but she does not,” the husband Scott said matter-of-factly, pointing to his wife. “I think he is the only one who could run the country like a business.”
His wife Gail smiled and rolled her eyes, pointing out that Trump didn’t have the proper political skills to run the country.
“He doesn’t understand that you have to be diplomatic. You can’t run it like a company, there’s no way,” she said. “There’s too many people that you have to work with. You can’t do that in politics.”
Another couple who were on their honeymoon from Maryland and had tickets to a show were surprised to see that all of the Republicans were in Las Vegas at the same time as they were. The husband, Chris, described himself as a lifelong Republican and a Trump supporter, pointing to the New York billionaire’s business experience.
“I know that he’s a little radical, but he’s down to earth. He believes in the American ways, he believes in bringing everything back home again, giving our own people our jobs back, and securing our borders.”
He said that he liked Carson, but that the neurosurgeon lacked the important skills necessary to be president that he believed Trump had.
“You gotta be a businessman, the guy is one heck of a businessman,” he said, referring to Trump.
James Barber, who identified himself as the president of the Colorado River Tea Party Patriots organization in Bullhead City, Arizona, said he stopped by the casino as he was in town to pick up a friend from the airport.
He identified himself as a Ted Cruz supporter because he was a “strict conservative” willing to shut down the government to stop them from spending so much money.
“We would rather the government shut down than to overspend like they are doing right now,” he said.
Another couple from New Jersey stopped by while they were in Las Vegas celebrating the wife’s birthday. She identified herself as a Chris Christie supporter, but admitted that Donald Trump had entertainment value, making the debate more interesting. She was more skeptical that Trump could be a successful president.
“He’s a great businessman, but I don’t think he has enough experience … he hasn’t been in school long enough.” she said.
One Vegas resident, Juan, was wearing a Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ hat as he stood outside the bar area for the duration of the debate. When asked why he supported Trump, he pointed to Trump’s selflessness as one reason he supported the billionaire.
“He’s a successful businessman, he has shown his leadership, very smart man, it seems like he cares about the country very much,” he said, “To have a person like him with so [much] money, willing to do this, I don’t think he needs to be doing it for anything but for love of the country.”
The sight of a Hispanic man wearing a Trump hat puzzled a local European visiting from the Netherlands who also stopped in the hallway to view the scene.
He said that he found Trump to be “demoralizing” because of his controversial comments and that his sustained political momentum was no longer entertaining.
“He doesn’t say anything, and still people root for him,” he said. “To me it doesn’t make sense. He can say anything and he gets away with it.”