CNN’s Debate Debacle

Posted by By at 14 June, at 13 : 24 PM Print

Last night CNN gave me an experience I never knew I needed; through the magic of technology and some overzealous producers, we witnessed what a debate would look like if run by a college senior with ADD and access to way too much technology.  In two hours CNN reduced political discourse in this country to such pressing questions as “Leno or Conan,” “coke or pepsi,” and “American idol or dancing with the stars?” This at a time when unemployment is 9.1% and rising and the debt increases by billions a DAY.

I have never had less respect for CNN as a news organization than I do now, and I was among the original Clinton News Network haters throughout the 90s.  The debate last night – in addition to being laced with glitches, hectic cutaways, and truncated answers – failed on even the most basic of levels.  The questions managed to avoid foreign policy until the last half hour yet made certain we all know whether, in moderator John King’s formulation, the candidates were “George W. Bush republicans” on gay marriage or “Dick Cheney republicans?”

It makes me wonder if Obama staged it – after all, what could be better than to have a candidate claim to be either a GHWB or Cheney guy as a soundbite for the inevitable “he’s just like bush” attack?  And it ignores the nuance in the question.  Never mind that the topic itself is beyond irrelevant when compared to issues CNN left unexplored until later, like foreign policy.

CNN made this (badly staged) theatre rather than a serious discussion, which harms the GOP specifically and the country generally.  We have real problems – ones that, like it or not, the President created or worsened in a lot of cases – and we need to start talking about all the options.  The people are going to seek out the answers to the questions they have, even if CNN would rather ascertain whether Herman Cain would rather have “thin crust or deep dish?”

With the sheer frivolity of the debate in mind, here are my observations.

1.  Ed Rollins earned his paycheck.  For the past couple weeks I have wondered why Ed Rollins would back Bachman – for the record, I am no fan of hers.  But last night I saw his handiwork all over the place and saw for the first time what he has – a candidate that can take direction, deliver a line, and who has a record to use to her advantage.  I still think she is a dangerous nominee for the GOP mainly because she will struggle in the general election in key states like North Carolina.  But that said, you have to give her her due from last night – she was crisp, polished and ready for prime time.

Oh, and Rollins’ tactical move to have her file today was genius – even if she had come in third or fourth she would have had a buzz and copy space from the announcement alone.  Coupled with the performance she was a big winner tonight.  So was Ed.

2.  Mitt Romney could be a guy who says all the right things, looks the part, and yet…For whatever reason it is hard to envision Mitt closing the deal against POTUS, but he is on message, well funded and has high name ID.  His business background helps – and his frontrunner status is already reaping him benefits; does anyone think T-Paw would have backed off on the brilliant “Obamneycare” line if he didn’t think he may want a cabinet slot someday?  I can’t say exactly why, but my gut sees Romney as the safe choice that loses.  Even still, he came away looking very strong which re-enforces his status as the guy to beat – for now.

3.  Santorum said all the right things, has the look and the record (for the GOP), but still…Bachman upstaged everyone with the announcement (also a smart way to deflect answering wholly a question she didn’t like), Romney was unbloodied, and Rick did well enough but never got to throw the haymaker he may need soon to break out of the crowd behind Mitt.  Rick looked good, but given Bachman’s performance and Romney’s clean jersey the best he can claim is third last night.

4.  Newt needs to get out now before he really damages himself as a potential cabinet pick.  It’s not that he is unknowledgeable or uncommitted or because of his staff issues – the fact is he looks like a a relic from a bygone era and simply did not have the ability on that crazy format to shine.  Newt is the kind of guy who needs time and attention to make his case.  In a twitter and four second soundbite (yup!) world, the long answer is as useful as a buggy whip anywhere but Amish farms.

I love Newt and a few weeks ago thought he had the stuff.  Between the ears he does – and between the ears he doesn’t.  Put another way, he is smart enough to be president, but probably too smart for his own good to get elected.

Regardless, when The Making of the President 2012 is written this debate will hardly merit a footnote.  It could, however, be a useful guide – should one want to know how not to run a debate, that is.

This post was written by:
- who has written 77 posts for Rock The Capital
Scott Paterno is an accomplished policy analyst and political consultant based in Hershey, PA. Mr. Paterno, never one to sit still, has practiced law, run for a house seat, and worked as lobbyist in Harrisburg and Washington. Paterno is Vice Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Fund and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Science. He is happily married with three children. - Email scottp

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