The Statesman’s Debate: How CNN Made The Presidential Debate Great Again

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, speaks, as Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, listen, during the Republican presidential debate sponsored by CNN, Salem Media Group and the Washington Times at the University …
AP/Wilfredo Lee

MIAMI, FLORIDA — What happened? As soon as reporters lined up in their assigned CNN debate watching stations, it was clear that something was different about the tone of the event.

Gone were the interruptions, the insults, the moderator struggles, and the complaints about not getting enough time. There were no charts, video clips, and few questions that invited candidates to attack each other.

“Our goal this evening is a serious debate on the issues,” moderator Jake Tapper explained at the opening of the debate, pointing out that each candidate would have more time than usual to respond — one minute 15 seconds to answer each question and 45 seconds to respond to an attack.

After the debate, a CNN source detailed to Breitbart News three important details that organizers emphasized in their debate preparation.

Question quality:

A CNN organizer explained that they were careful to focus on serious policy questions and issues facing the Republican party, instead of the more sensational gotcha questions that disrupted the infamous CNBC debate that drew vocal complains from all of the candidates.

Tapper immediately opened up the debate with serious policy questions about trade, immigration, and foreign worker visas — issues that the candidates have debated in earnest on the campaign trail.

The policy questions kept coming — Veterans Affairs, Social Security, U.S. relations with Cuba, Israel, Common Core, and Global Warming.

The serious tone allowed for a more substantive discussion, and the group of monitors successfully stayed in charge.

“Clearly they were afraid of me … they knew I would bring down the hammer,” joked Tapper sardonically, after his colleagues asked him on air why the candidates were better behaved this time. Tapper also pointed out that the campaigns had received the message from voters and donors to be more civil and respectful after the horrifying moment that Trump defended the size of his manhood in the prior debate in Detroit.

Minimizing candidate interruptions:

Nothing contributed more to the debate chaos in previous debates more than candidates choosing to interrupt and talk over each other. That was diminished by the reduction of people on stage to four, but it was also a planned effort.

Organizers spoke multiple times with campaign managers, encouraging them to abide by the rules without interrupting. If someone interrupted, they warned, the candidate who was speaking would get their speaking clock reset, giving them an advantage.

Crowd control:

In past debates, members of the audience distracted from the substance by loudly booing candidates who they disagreed with. No one was more affected by this than Donald Trump — who repeatedly dismissed the noise as the donors and lobbyists that his opponents brought to the debate. At other times in past debates,  members of the audience screamed loudly each time their candidate spoke, often times drowning out the political exchanges.

A representative from CNN took the stage before the debate to welcome supporters in Miami, but made them immediately aware of their responsibility to keep things civil. They were warned that if members of the audience were disruptive, they would be escorted out of the hall. The RNC’s Sharon Day also took the stage to urge the crowd to properly represent the Republican party. CNN organizers also controlled the lighting and didn’t feature crowd microphones.

It worked. The candidates were appreciative of the change in tone, praising CNN’s approach in the post-debate interviews.

Donald Trump, frequently the benefactor of a more tumultuous stage, appeared to appreciate the chance to show his more serious side.

“I thought it was a very elegant debate,” Trump said afterwards. “I thought it was very substantive … I think your folks did a good job. I thought it was very fair.”

“It’s a credit to CNN. You asked policy questions,” Marco Rubio said. “We haven’t had a substantive debate in quite a while.”

Ted Cruz agreed, recalling the absurdity of candidates bickering on stage about the size of their body parts.

“I was glad to see instead of talking about the insult of the day, we were talking about foreign policy, talking about economic policy, talking about the things we should be talking about,” he said.

Even serial debate interrupter John Kasich appeared satisfied with the format.

“Guess what? I’m finally starting to get some time on the debate stage!” he said warmly in the post debate interview. “I don’t have to fight for every second I get, and it’s working out great.”

After the debate, Sen. Cory Gardner marveled at the dramatic change in tone.

“This wasn’t a gotcha debate, this wasn’t a jab debate, this was a statesman debate,” he said. “This is a debate that I think America has been waiting for, you’ve seen parts of tonight’s debate break out in previous debates before, but never an entire debate like this.”