CNN struggles to contain debate fireworks


As Rubio and Cruz rush to pummel Trump, the network’s moderators get bowled over.

At the tenth Republican debate, the candidates took charge.

Trailing Donald Trump in most Super Tuesday states, both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz seemed determined to assume the role of questioner themselves, peppering Trump with missives from either side of his lectern, tag-team style. At times, they relegated CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and his three fellow moderators to NFL-style clock monitors.

CNN can’t be faulted for allowing some of the most revealing exchanges to play out. But sometimes Blitzer and fellow moderators — CNN correspondent Dana Bash, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, and Telemundo’s Maria Celeste Arraras — let sparks on stage turn into barely controllable brush fires.

There were many dramatic, finger-wagging encounters. But often they devolved into cross talk and bickering as Blitzer, or his co-panelists, tried to call out “Gentlemen, gentlemen,” to calm them down.

“Wolf, you said I got a response,” Cruz demanded at one point, when Blitzer tried to pivot to questions from Arraras on ISIS.

Blitzer interjected that he’d have a chance later.

“You’re saying I can’t respond to being called a liar?” Cruz asked incredulously.

The moderator relented, leading to a five-minute exchange that devolved at one point into Trump and Cruz squabbling uncontrollably.

“This debate could have used a moderator,” tweeted The Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg.

“Very intrigued by Wolf Blitzer’s moderating strategy of ‘do absolutely nothing at any time’ ” tweeted New York Times reporter Dave Itzikoff.

At another point, Cruz turned the tables on the moderators, and tried to get Trump to answer one of his own questions.

“Donald, true or false, you’ve said the government should pay for everyone’s health care?” he demanded during an exchange about “socialized” medicine.

Cruz kept going, trying to fact check Trump as he said that was false, then asking him to “explain his plan” and “who pays for it?”

Blitzer regained control, warning the candidates they had “agreed to the rules,” before turning back to Trump.

During most of the debate the moderators concentrated on the top three candidates, with the camera zooming in on the three who were center stage, thereby cutting Ben Carson and John Kasich out of the frame.

The attention, in particular, was on Trump. The frontrunner spoke for 11 minutes more than any other candidate, clocking in at more than 30 minutes.

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