The “Big Debate” held Wednesday night showed a couple of things. Other than the fact that Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie all came out very well, with Fiorina winning by most scorecards, the underbelly of the debate was a different story.
CNN really lost control on this one.
Jake Tapper, who’s a pretty decent reporter in his own right, was selected to be the moderator. He had two co-moderators, Dana Bash, CNN’s chief political correspondent, and Hugh Hewitt a radio talk show host with Salem Radio Network. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that if you missed the opening statement from Tapper.
The candidates were supposed to answer their questions within a two-minute time limit, and they got 30 seconds to respond if they were attacked by a candidate. But it didn’t necessarily work out that way. The candidates decided that even mentioning a campaign issue they had somehow talked about in the past qualified as “an attack” on them. The interruptions and elbow throwing to get heard went unchecked by Tapper, while Bash and Hewitt must have been out signing autographs for most of the debate. We rarely heard from them.
Having candidates attack each other and question each other directly is refreshing. Listening to three hours (THREE hours???) of screaming and screeching becomes annoying. Not only for the viewers, but the candidates look like they were ready for a glass of Simi Valley Merlot as it entered the home stretch. It was all Donald Trump could do to stand behind his podium without grasping it for support.
The questions were meant to provoke rather than probe. I’ll give it to Fox in the first debate that at least they asked policy questions. CNN was content to ask questions in the vein of: “Senator Rubio, Governor Christie said in an interview that you wear ugly ties. Do you really wear ugly ties?” That was just pure spectacle. There was no need for that. I much rather would have heard a question like, “Senator Rubio, outline your plan for immigration, and be specific”.
I will credit Tapper for one thing. He DID call the candidates when they dodged his questions. He would go back to them initially and say, “You didn’t answer my question”, and he’d repeat the question for them. But by the end, he was so happy to be done, I think he didn’t care if they answered a question or gave ball scores from their home teams.
Look, I don’t watch CNN all that much. There just isn’t much to that network that makes sense in my mind. I know they were very happy with the way they handled themselves, but they were the only ones. Most of the media pundits realized some very important lessons:
- Three hours is too long for a debate.
- Don’t ask questions designed to pit one candidate against another. Probe, don’t pit.
- Keep better time. Too often some candidates ran over with the comment, “I haven’t talked much, so I’m going to finish”.
- You need to keep control of the debate. When you give control to the candidates, you lose control.
- You have three moderators…not one. Use all three equally.
With that in mind, we move on to Debate III in Boulder, Colorado. It’ll be a high time in the Rockies. And I’m sure Rand Paul won’t be getting a question about marijuana and the 10th amendment there!
Carry on world…you’re dismissed!