BLITZER: Senator Graham, you’re shaking your head.
BLITZER: Governor Bush, you called Mr. Trump “unhinged” when he proposed banning non-American Muslims from the United States. Why is that unhinged?
BLITZER: Dr. Carson, what would you do about Kim Jong-un?
BLITZER: Ms. Fiorina, as you pointed out you were a CEO in Silicon Valley on 9/11. Companies there, they say they won’t help the FBI now crack encrypted communication from ISIS, should they be forced to.
BLITZER: Thank you, senator.
BLITZER: Dr. Carson, who was right in that little debate that we just heard between Senator Rubio and Senator Paul?
Those who tuned into the two debates — an early evening undercard event for also-ran candidates and a prime-timer for the big-timers — may not have noticed because there wasn’t much to notice: CNN lead anchor Wolf Blitzer moderated an event that stands a chance at blowing away even the record-breaking audience numbers of earlier Republican clashes during this election cycle. And yet he disappeared.
Entrusted with heading up a pair of debates tilted almost exclusively toward national security and foreign policy, Blitzer led the candidates on a full tour of the relevant issues. Strategies for fighting the Islamic State loomed big; how and whether to confront Russia in the Middle East elicited some fine moments from the candidates; Sen. Ted Cruz battled with Sen. Rand Paul over civil liberties v. anti-terrorism; World War III came up, via a candidate that has seen his share of attention across all CNN — and non-CNN — platforms. It was all glorious public-service programming — informative, substantive as all get out and relatively devoid of insults and foolishness despite the man at the center podium.
Check that part about it “all” being glorious. Blitzer showed a bandwidth shortage as he asked Donald Trump if he’d support shutting down “parts of the Internet” in order to stop ISIS. Though that notion sprung from a Trump idea to begin with, it was a clumsy formulation — as if the Internet allowed for street closures.
That moment, however, won’t mar Blitzer’s work on Tuesday night. It was too good, too consistent, too straight, too disciplined. A telling moment came when the debate touched on the topic of regime change. Lordy, did Cruz have some thoughts on the topic. “Wolf, the question of whether we should be toppling dictatorships is asking the wrong question. We should be defeating our enemies, so the problem with defeating…” said Cruz, who was talking out of turn, at least in Blitzer’s evaluation. The moderator tried to get Cruz to shut up, but polite intervention didn’t impress the fiery Texan. “Senator, please,” pleaded Blitzer, who eventually had to get tough in order toe clear space for partner Hugh Hewitt to do his thing. “These are the rules all of you agreed to. Hugh, go ahead with your question.”
The Erik Wemple Blog wasn’t in attendance at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Even so, we have to think that Cruz’s filibustering displeased the crowd. It showed disrespect to a respectful moderator.
Back in late October, the campaigns and various commentators ripped the moderators of the CNBC Republican presidential debate not only for the questions they posed, but also for the “sneering” attitude they displayed in posing those questions. This blog thought the complaints — and the demand letter that sprung from them — overstated the alleged bias and recklessness of the CNBC production. Whatever the case: If they complain about Blitzer, we’ll know that media derangement has tightened its grip on the republic.