There have been many complaints about how the media have handled the GOP presidential debates to date, and last night CNN decided to take a different approach in an effort to deflect criticism from both the candidates and the public. They altered the format to focus more on audience questions rather than the moderator’s, but the result was less than satisfying.
The debate was co-sponsored by two of Washington’s most prominent conservative think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, with Wolf Blitzer serving as the moderator.
Blitzer may have been hoping that the agreed upon format with questions being asked mainly by AEI and Heritage policy experts would satisfy conservatives and Newt Gingrich, who have been critical of the manner and types of questions that have been asked to date in the debates.
That might have worked except that Blitzer chose to use the topics of foreign policy and national security to pit the candidates against each other rather than having a real discussion of the issues.
Blitzer knew that Rep. Ron Paul, who is stridently anti-war, would be the perfect foil for his strategy. He called on Paul early and often to get the anti-war opinion out front, to negate the general hawkishness of the other candidates.
As I sat in the audience I couldn’t help but wonder why Paul and other bottom tier (based on polls) candidates were getting so much attention compared to those who are leading in the polls.
Apparently Blitzer saw an opportunity to use the complaints about the lack of airtime in previous debates from Paul and the others at the bottom of the polls as an excuse to give them an outsized portion of the time last night. He allowed them, Paul in particular, to dominate even though they most likely have no real chance of winning the nomination at this stage.
So despite the best efforts of AEI and Heritage, Blitzer and CNN made sure the debate spun their way in the end.