For debate moderators, it was fight night.
If it seemed like the Republican candidates in Wednesday night’s debate had a lot of opportunities to take swings at each other, the questions being asked of them only fueled the fight night feel.
CNN anchor and debate moderator Jake Tapper’s questions followed a consistent structure: Candidate A said something, now Candidate B respond to it. In many cases, like in spurring the spat between Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump, Tapper quoted criticisms the candidates had leveled against each other.
Of the first 25 questions asked in the debate, all but one followed that format. The only question that didn’t pit two candidates against other was the only one poised by radio host Hugh Hewitt.
For example, instead of asking the candidates their views on U.S. and China relations, Tapper made it about responding to their competitors.
“Senator Paul, the White House is rolling out the red carpet next week for the President of China, President Xi. Gov. Walker says that President Obama should cancel the state dinner because of China’s currency manipulation, and because of China’s alleged cyber attacks against the United States,” Tapper said. “Is Governor Walker right?”
Tapper frequently cut off the answers that were heavy on policy. But he let the candidates keep talking as long as they were leveling punches at their opponents.
Tapper pushed the candidates to call each other out by name. When he asked Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul about legalizing marijuana, the senator joked that he could ask the entire panel how many had smoked marijuana in high school — what appeared to be an allusion to reporting that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had done so.
When Tapper asked Paul if he was discussing a specific candidate, Bush volunteered that he was likely talking about him.
“That’s what I thought, but I wanted him to say it,” Tapper said, cutting off Bush.
The bickering wasn’t missed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who early on complained about the fighting and lack of policy.
“If I were sitting at home and watch thing back and forth, I would be inclined to turn it off. I mean, people at home want to know across this country, they want to know what we’re going to do to fix this place, how we’ll balance a budget, how we’re going to create more economic growth, how we’ll pay down the debt. What we’re going to do to strengthen the military,” Kasich said. “So, we just spent 10 minutes here…”
Tapper then cut him off. “We have a lot of issues coming up, sir,” Tapper said.
“But — but wait a minute,” Kasich then cut off Tapper. “It’s a lot of ad hogshead. Now, I know that it may be buzzing out there, but I think it’s important we get to the issues, because that’s what people want, and they don’t want all this fighting.”