It’s “a day like no other!” CNN’s Kate Bolduan gushed on air this morning as her network continued to hyperventilate over its telecast of tonight’s second GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA.
It’s a day in which anybody who thinks they’re going to get a serious discussion of the issues in two hours from a stage jammed with 11 candidates probably is doomed to walk away unhappy, suggested longtime Beltway show pundit Bob Schieffer in an appearance at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center this week.
It’s a day in which CNN hopes to meet or beat the whopping 24 million viewers clocked by Fox News Channel when it telecast the first GOP debate on August 6, setting a ratings record for that cable news network.
This is not a debate in which the candidates should recite political résumés, given that the two front-runners, reality TV star/real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, are leading the crowded field with boasts they have no political experience.
Conservative radio pundit Hugh Hewitt, who was the RNC’s pick to join CNN’s chief political correspondent Dana Bash and chief Washington correspondent and The Lead anchor Jake Tapper in asking tonight’s debate questions, gleefully explained this week to MSNBC Morning Joe hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough that the two front-runners “have nothing to do – zero – with the political class that loves the Sunday Beltway show and Morning Joe and political debate.”
He continued: “Your show is loved by that elite. Donald Trump and Ben Carson are talking over the heads of that elite to tens of millions of Americans who got nothing to do with and have very little sympathy or affection for the folks who have been running things, whether Democrat or Republican, for the last 40 years.”
Scarborough called that “ghastly.”
And, though Hewitt is so far the only one of tonight’s three question-posers already accused of lobbing a “gotcha question” at one of the candidates – tripping up Trump the other day on his radio show with a foreign policy question in which Trump confused Kurds and the Quds forces, among other missteps (Hewitt since has said he framed the question poorly), one of few certainties about this debate is that post-event blather will include complaints that liberal CNN had it in for the candidates. A strategist advising one of the candidates already intimated as much to The New York Times earlier this week – anonymously, of course.
Tonight’s debate again is two separate debates. Seated at the kids table for lower-polling candidates this time: former senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former NY Gov. George Pataki. The second, primetime debate will feature Trump, Carson, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Most TV-industry navel-lint gazers expect the crowd watching tonight’s big-table debate to come close to, but not beat, FNC’s haul, despite the addition of controversial candidate Fiorina to the big-debate lineup after being unofficially declared winner of the kids-table debate on FNC’s night. That’s because his main debate has an earlier start time of 8 PM ET, and CNN is not a natural gathering place for those tens of millions of conservatives who are drawn to Trump’s rhetoric, as is Fox News Channel. Plus, CNN is offering the option of watching the debate digitally, via livestream.
But CNN has been doing its flood-the-zone best to gin up the biggest crowd possible for tonight’s event. This morning, its talking heads were spinning gleefully, noting this debate, unlike the other, is being held in a far more intimate setting and is happening post-Labor Day, when some viewers might just now be “waking up” and realizing what’s going on.