"[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
Fiorina Trump Temperament
Trump Bush Trump
Christie Carson Outsiders
Bush Trump Donors
Cruz Kasich Iran deal
Paul Walker Chinese visit
Trump Senators Syria red line
Huckabee Bush Kim Davis
Kasich Cruz PP shutdown
Cruz Graham Shutdown
Christie Cruz Shutdown
Bush Trump Women's health
Fiorina Trump Rolling Stone
Trump Christie Immigration
Carson Trump Deportation
Bush Trump Wife
Trump Bush Speaking Spanish
Cruz Carson Immigration
Trump Fiorina Birthright
Fiorina Trump Business
Kasich Trump Hedge funds
Carson Trump Progressive taxation
Walker Carson Minimum wage
Kasich Fiorina Viability
Trump Rubio Knowledge of foreign policy
Christie Carson War in Afghanistan
Walker Graham Troops to Syria
Bush Cruz John Roberts
Paul Christie Marijuana
Trump Christie Social Security
Christie Rubio Climate change
Carson Trump Vaccines

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?