CNN hoped the second Republican primary debate would be like a 3-hour WWE wrestling match and it showed in their commercials leading up to the Wednesday night show. The motive was obvious: ratings. A month after the highly rated FOX News debate, featuring blows between Trump and Paul, and Paul and Christie, CNN began airing commercials insinuating that the Republican candidates would once again ‘fight to the finish’ in a ‘no holds barred’ match.
Unlike the FOX debate, the CNN hosts forgot to moderate (aka ‘referee’) the debate, allowing the candidates to talk over one another. Oh, and let’s not forget, this was a 3 hour debate, leading many of us political junkies to wonder if it was going to end before the elections…Determined to bring in huge ratings (as FOX News did with 24 million viewers),the CNN debate rules were simple. The candidates were asked questions about their fellow candidates, and if said candidate criticized another candidate, the criticized candidate had the chance to respond back to the criticism. Over and over.The CNN moderators repeatedly tried to pit one Republican candidate after another; some took the bait and others took the high road. Unfortunately it got to the point that some candidates seemed to “disappear” for 30 minutes at times due to the fighting CNN was evoking among the candidates.
The moderators, or rather just Jake Tapper (where did the others go?) would later ask the candidates’ questions on actual issues such as immigration, the Iran Deal, Planned Parenthood, and the federal same-sex marriage ruling. Because of the allotted time of three hours, other issues could have (and should have) also been covered, such as the economy, jobs and Veterans. But those issues never showed the light of day since most of the 3 hours were spent on the moderators’ main goal of getting the candidates to fight with Donald Trump.
At the beginning, each of the candidates gave a one-minute speech about themselves. Tapper, wasting no time trying to start a fight, asked Carly Fiorina about Donald Trump’s ‘temperament’ and asked if she was concerned that “one of his fingers might be on the nuclear codes”. This led to Fiorina calling Trump “an entertainer”, and Trump directed a sideways rebuttal towards Senator Rand Paul. “First of all, Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage. He’s number 11, he’s got 1 percent in the polls, and how he got up here,” Trump said. Paul responded that Trump’s comments/attacks have a “sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump.”
“His visceral response to attack people on their appearance — short, tall, fat, ugly — my goodness that happened in junior high,” Paul said. Trump responded, “I never attacked him on his look, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.”
Fiorina, the only woman candidate on the stage (and field) was not supposed to be on the main stage due to CNN guidelines, using 14 polls averaged from July to September. Her performance in the FOX’s undercard debate helped surge her poll numbers. After pressure from Fiorina and voters to change the guidelines, CNN revised their rules and added a spot for Fiorina in their prime time stage.
All eyes were on Fiorina when she was asked about a comment Trump had made about her looks. “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” Fiorina said in a cool and composed manner, refusing to engage in any fights and proving that she definitely belonged on the top-tier debate stage.
Governor Scott Walker seemed furious at the exchanges occurring in the debate. At one point he tried to get Tapper’s attention by calling his name numerous times until was able to get attention without interruption.
“This is what’s wrong with this debate,” Gov. Walker said. “We’re not talking about real issues. And Mr. Trump, we don’t need an apprentice in the White House.”
The ‘apprentice’ reference, of course, led to Trump going after Walker. He sharply criticized Walker on his governor record, using Democrat talking points about Walker “losing $2.2 billion.” Walker hit back: “You want to talk about balanced budgets? You took four major projects into bankruptcy over and over and over again. You can’t take America into bankruptcy. That’s what’s wrong with the politicians in Washington right now. They think we can take a country into bankruptcy.”
Governor Jeb Bush would be the next candidate to go after Trump. Tapper asked if Trump was correct in claiming that the $100 million Bush raised for his campaign would make him a “puppet” for his donors. Bush answered by accusing Trump of using his money for his special interests and of trying to bring casino gambling to Florida. Trump said Bush is “making things up” and that his claims were “totally false.” Trump then got the biggest laugh of the night when, in the middle of their exchange, he said to Bush, “OK, more energy tonight. I like that.”
Next, policy issues were (finally) asked, and differences of views quickly became apparent between ‘moderates’ like Governor John Kasich and ‘conservatives’ like Senator Ted Cruz.
Tapper asked Cruz, “Governor Kasich says that anyone who is promising to rip up the Iran deal on day one is ‘inexperienced’ and ‘playing to a crowd.'” Cruz said that destroying the Iran deal is a concern that involves several of U.S. allies. Kasich defended his stance saying, “The problems is that we don’t have the relationship with our allies…we are stronger when we work with the friends and allies than just doing it on our own I don’t think is the right policy.”
On the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood, Kasich was asked about Cruz’s tactic of stripping federal funds that could result in shutting down the federal government. Kasich argued this movement, led by Cruz, would fail and backfire politically. “When it comes to closing down the federal government, you gotta be very careful about that,” Kasich said. “The American people are going to shake their heads and say ‘What is the story with these Republicans?’”
Neither candidate would attack each other during the mini-debates over explaining their differences of views. Other candidates weighed in on both issues, opposing Kasich’s stances. But it was Fiorina who stole the spotlight, scoring points on both issues and garnering the strongest applause of the night:
I would like to link these two issues, both of which are incredibly important, Iran and Planned Parenthood. One has something to do with the defense of the security of this nation. The other has something to do with the defense of the character of this nation. You have not heard a plan about Iran from any politician up here, here is my plan. On day one in the Oval Office, I will make two phone calls, the first to my good friend to Bibi Netanyahu to reassure him we will stand with the state of Israel.
The second, to the supreme leader, to tell him that unless and until he opens every military and every nuclear facility to real anytime, anywhere inspections by our people, not his, we, the United States of America, will make it as difficult as possible and move money around the global financial system.
In regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, it’s heart beating, it’s legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.
This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up in and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.
Despite a few shining moments (like Fiorina’s statement above), because of the constant exchanges between (and about) the candidates, others were left out of the debate for long periods of time.
Walker, a one-time front runner whose polling numbers have been tanking recently, needed that big break. But there was one problem: Walker was only asked three questions and only spoke for 8 minutes out of those three hours. Walker came off strong in the beginning (with his ‘apprentice’ dig) but after so many frustrating back-and-forth confrontations, Kasich said, “If I were sitting at home and watch thing back and forth, I would be inclined to turn it off.” So candidates like Walker ultimately faded into the the background, only to be seen when the cameras showed side angles of all the candidates.
After the debate, Walker told reporters in the Spin Room he could barely get a word in even though he managed to interject over five times. His campaign team believed “CNN had an agenda and it showed.” Here is Walker discussing his ‘apprentice’ comment:
Governor Mike Huckabee was another candidate who was also asked only three questions and had a speaking time of 9 minutes. However, Huckabee was very strong every time he spoke.
When asked if Jeb Bush was on the wrong side of the debate over the Kim Davis issue, Huckabee replied, “We made accommodations to the Fort Hood shooter, to let him grow a beard. We made accommodations to the detainees at Gitmo… You’re telling me that you cannot make an accommodation for an elected Democrat county clerk from Rowan County, Kentucky? What else is it other than the criminalization of her faith?”
Governor Chris Christie, all-but-forgotten by the moderators, had one major moment that was reminiscent of the “old Christie” that conservatives originally fell in love with (before he hugged Obama…). After a back and forth exchange between Fiorina and Trump about their business records, Christie said,
“The fact is that we don’t want to hear about your careers, back and forth and volleying back and forth about who did well and who did poorly. You’re both successful people. Congratulations. You know who’s not successful? The middle class in this country who’s getting plowed over by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Let’s start talking about those issues tonight and stop this childish back-and-forth between the two of you.”
Throughout the entire 3 hours, the moderators continually threw bait at Trump’s rivals (aka The Candidates), hoping to continue the feuds that occurred during the first 40 minutes of the telecast. CNN worked overtime trying to grab major ratings and headlines the way FOX News did with their debate, squaring off FOX moderator Megyn Kelly with Trump for weeks after.
Overall, either CNN wanted to try to break FOX News viewers’ record or they wanted to damage the Republican Party by showing viewers pettiness over substance and understanding of the issues. A debate is supposed to educate and inform viewers of candidates’ views and substances. Asking questions that focused only on candidates attacking other candidates is not a debate. Other than giving Fiorina a much needed bump-up, the CNN debate was in no way beneficial to any candidate, much less American voters. No one gave details about issues Americans are facing (thanks to the last 6 years under President Obama). None were able to convey what they would do if they were elected president.
Perhaps CNN needs a reminder that a presidential debate is not a reality TV show. Their entire format was a total failure, which led to the moderators losing control of a debate which was already filled with too many candidates. At times it was chaotic, and some candidates came across as desperate to be heard.
Dr. Ben Carson, who gave some great answers but was clearly overshadowed by the perhaps larger, more ‘brash’ personalities, said ‘you have to be a buttinsky’ to speak:
After the debate, Gov. Mike Huckabee told PolitiChicks he, too, felt “frustrated” that he wasn’t given more time but defended Trump, adding he would include him in his cabinet if elected president:
As for moderators, only one, Jake Tapper, was needed because co-hosts Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt only asked 3 questions each during the three hour show.
And speaking of, five hours–two hours for the low-tier, three for the main–is far too long. Especially when most of those hours were dedicated mostly to Trump bashing. By count, both debates focused 44% of questions focused on Trump with 26 questions that included Trump’s name. In contrast, Veteran issues or Obamacare were 0% covered.
Next month, CNN will host the first Democrat Party debate. You can rest assured they won’t pit Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton, or ask Hillary detailed questions about her “email problems”, and they won’t promote it as if it’s going to be a WWE event. Instead it will probably be fair and balanced in a very Democrat Party way–focusing on ridiculing Trump, Carly, Cruz, Walker and Bush. It will be a show dedicated to talking smack about Republican presidential candidates and not about policy issues.
Gee, we can’t wait…