"[W]hat the team and I have been doing," CNN's Jake Tapper told his colleague Brian Stelter earlier this week when describing plans for Wednesday's presidential debate, "is trying to craft questions that, in most cases, pit candidates against the other, specific candidates on the stage, on issues where they disagree."
So, you know, make it a debate. Fine. But Tapper wasn't joking around when he said "in most cases." Per our tally, there were a grand total of seven questions in which a candidate was asked about an issue without it being presented in contrast to one of the other candidates. The rest of the time — 32 times, to be precise — candidates were asked to respond to something an opponent had said or a position an opponent held. Twice, the subject was Lindsey Graham, whose policies made the prime-time debate stage, even if he didn't. The other 30 times, the person the candidate was being asked to address was a few feet away.
Or, put another way:
As you may have noticed, Donald Trump was the most common fighter, either giving or taking. Poor Mike Huckabee, though. Tapper didn't want to see him fight with anyone.
Here are the confrontations that CNN tried to provoke, in order.
|Question of||Asked about||Topic|
|Trump||Senators||Syria red line|
|Trump||Rubio||Knowledge of foreign policy|
|Christie||Carson||War in Afghanistan|
|Walker||Graham||Troops to Syria|
So: A debate! Right? I mean, yeah, it's sort of like Tapper's the kid at recess who keeps picking up two ants, putting them in a box, and seeing which survives. But if we can't have good old-fashioned Roman gladiator matches, this might be the next best thing.
Just maybe not for three hours next time?