All The Ways CNN Tried To Get The Candidates To Fight In The GOP Debates (And They Totally Took The Bait)
It took barely took 10 minutes for the second GOP debate to really get off the ground, but boy, when it did... things really got heated. If you found it hard to keep track of all of the in-fighting that went on between the candidates, that makes you and pretty much every viewer watching. But the truth is, that was by design — it's pretty clear that CNN set the GOP candidates up for a fight, and gave us a ring-side seat to quite a show in the process. In fact, moderator Jake Tapper pretty much told us that would be his tactic.
"My goal is more about: Let’s draw the contrasts between the candidates, and have them fight it out over these policies,” Tapper told The New York Times. “Have them lay it all out so voters can see it." And he certainly did. Tapper, along with co-moderator Dana Bash, jumped right in during the first block of questioning, with a questioning style that pitted several of the candidates against each other starting with — you guessed it, Trump.
Here were some of the highlights from the debates most heated moments.
When Tapper Asked The Candidates If They'd Feel Comfortable With Trump's Finger On The Nuclear Codes
Tapper first kicked things off by citing a recent statement by Bobby Jindal about Donald Trump, in which the governor said he wouldn't want "such a hot head with his finger on the nuclear codes." Though Tapper tossed this question to Carly Fiorina, asking if she too felt the same way, the former HP CEO expertly dodged it by choosing not to attack Trump. "You know, I think Mr. Trump is a wonderful entertainer," she said. "He's been terrific at that business. I also think that one of the benefits of a presidential campaign is the character and capability, judgment and temperament of every single one of us is revealed over time and under pressure."
But when Tapper probed her further, noting that she never actually answered the question, Fiorina still refused. "That's not for me to answer," she said. "It is for the voters of this country to answer, and I have a lot of faith in the common sense and good judgment of the voters of the United States of America.
Tapper wasn't about to let that one go lightly, though. Switching over to to the Donald, he asked simply: "Mr. Trump?" Unfortunately (or fortunately) Trump completely ignored the nuclear codes question and instead opened with what can only be described as one of the most random comments of the night: "Well, first of all, Rand Paul shouldn't even be on this stage," said Trump. "He's number 11, he's got 1 percent in the polls, and how he got up here, there's far too many people anyway."
Err... OK. To that, Rand replied:
I think really there's a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I'm very concerned about him — having him in charge of the nuclear weapons, because I think his response, his — his visceral response to attack people on their appearance — short, tall, fat, ugly — my goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that?
With a one-two punch, Trump retorted: "I never attacked [Paul] on his looks, and there’s plenty of substance there.”
When Tapper Got Trump Fired Up Over Bush's Comments That He's "Not A Serious Candidate"
Tapper's line of questioning didn't let up as the debate wore on, with the moderator taking every opportunity he could to use the words of each candidate against each other. Of course, this happened most when it came to the Donald. "Mr. Trump," Tapper said at one point. "Gov. Bush told me last week when I read him the quote from Governor Jindal that he agrees you're not a serious candidate. Tell Governor Bush why you are a serious candidate and what your qualifications are to be commander-in-chief."
But Trump wasn't too miffed. He immediately took the opportunity to do what he does best — talk about his many accomplishments:
I've actually been in politics all my life, although I've been on that side as opposed to this side. I'm now a politician for about three months. Obviously, I'm doing pretty well. I'm number one in every polls (sic) by a lot. But the qualification is that I've dealt with people all over the world, been successful all over the world. Everything I've done virtually has been a tremendous success.
Still looking to continue the nuclear codes fight, Tapper then turned to Jeb Bush. "Governor Bush," he asked. "Would you feel comfortable with Donald Trump's finger on the nuclear codes?"
Eek. It was clear by now Bush knew just where Tapper was wanting to go with that one, and he did his best to avoid any further infighting. "I think the voters will make that determination," said Bush.
When Tapper Tried To Pit Christie And Carson Against Each Other — But Christie Wasn't Having It
Switching off from Trump and Bush for a bit, Tapper set his sights on Chris Christie and Ben Carson. This time, Tapper brought up Carson's comments on being a political outsider, as well as his rather strong hints that politicians are mostly invested in their own self-interests. "Governor Christie, I want to ask you about something that Dr. Carson said the other day," said Tapper. "Dr. Carson said campaigning is easier for him, because he's not a politician. He can just tell the truth, therefore, while politicians, quote, "Have their finger in the air to see and do what is politically expedient."
Again, Tapper set up his question in a way that sure seemed aimed at provoking Christie. "Governor Christie, tell Dr. Carson, is that a fair description of you?" But Christie, for one, wasn't taking the bait. "Well, I know Ben wasn't talking about me, I'm sure he was talking about one of the other guys, not me," he laughed off, before diving into talking about his own accomplishments as a New Jersey governor — including lowering taxes vetoing "crazy liberal Democratic legislature."
When Tapper Asked Huckabee If Jeb Bush Was On The Wrong Side Of The Kim Davis Issue
Over the last few weeks, we've seen more than a few opinions on the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky law clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue gay marriage licenses. We also saw Mike Huckabee come strongly to her public defense, calling her punishment an example of the "criminalization of Christianity." Tapper didn't overlook the opportunity to call out how Huckabee's opinions of the case strongly differed from his fellow candidate, Jeb Bush. Again, Tapper looked to start a fight by saying, "There are several people on the stage who disagree with you. Governor Bush, for example, says that that clerk is sworn to uphold the law. Is Governor Bush on the wrong side of the criminalization of Christianity?"
Huckabee tried his best to remain civil in his response, though. Unlike the previous infighting of Trump and Fiorina, and even Bush, Huckabee didn't take the bait. "No, I don't think he's on the wrong side of such an issue," said Huckabee. "Jeb is a friend. I'm not up here to fight with Jeb or to fight with anybody else. But I am here to fight for somebody who is a county clerk elected under the Kentucky constitution that 75 percent of the people of that state had voted for that said that marriage was between a man and a woman."
When Trump's Comments About Carly Fiorina's Appearance Were Brought Up — And She Totally Shut Him Down
At the end of the first block of questioning, Tapper referenced a quote from Rolling Stone mag, in which Trump fired off some particularly sexist remarks at Carly Fiorina: "Look at that face, would anyone vote for that?" he was quoted as saying. "Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?"
Said Tapper, "Trump later said he was talking about your persona, not your appearance. Please feel free to respond what you think about his persona."
Fiorina awesomely responded with one of the best comebacks of the night, when she turned to Trump and said, "It's interesting to me that Bush said that he heard Mr. Trump clearly, and what Mr. Trump said. I think women all over this country heard clearly what Mr. Trump said." (Ooo, burn!)
But while you might think Trump might take this moment to apologize for his off-the-cuff remark, he didn't exactly. "I think she's got a beautiful face and I think she's a beautiful woman," he said in response. (Yep — seriously.)
When Tapper Brought Up Trump's Criticisms of Fiorina's CEO Track Record
One theme the debate kept bringing up was the reality that so-called "political outsiders" were seem to be faring best in the polls so far, between Trump, Fiorina, and Carson. But during one question that got particularly heated, Tapper took the time to call out the main similarity between Fiorina and Trump in particular: They've both worked as high-powered CEOs.
So yet again, Tapper lit a flame by pitting the two business moguls against each other, and referencing one of Trump's many digs at Fiorina. "Why should they pick you, and not Donald Trump?" Tapper asked Fiorina. "Donald said you ran HP into the ground, you laid of 100s of people, you got viciously fired."
To that, Fiorina held her own, choosing not to bash Trump in her response, but instead to confidently defend her work at HP:
I led Hewlitt Packard through a very difficult time, the worse technology recession in 25 years. The Nasdaq stock index fell 80 percent, it took 15 years for the stock index to recover. We had very strong competitors who literally went out of business and lost all of their jobs in the process. Despite those difficult times, we doubled the size of the company, we quadrupled its top-line growth weight, we quadrupled its rate of innovation ... We went from lagging behind to leading.
The Donald, however, went on a rant aimed at discrediting everything Fiorina had just outlined about her business success. He said:
The head of the Yale Business School, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, wrote a paper recently, one of the worst tenures for a CEO that he has ever seen, ranked one of the top 20 in the history of business. The company is a disaster and continues to be a disaster. They still haven't recovered. In fact, today, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, they fired another 25 or 30,000 people saying we still haven't recovered from the catastrophe.
Soon after, Carly hit back by noting Trump's own business failures tied to his many casino ventures. Thankfully, though, all of it ended when Christie butted in and shut things down: "While I'm as entertained as anyone by the personal back and forth about the history of Donald and Carly's career, for the 55-year-old construction worker out there in the audience tonight who doesn't have a job, who can't fund his child's education, I gotta tell you the truth, they could care less about your careers. They care about their's. Let's start talking about that."
When Tapper's Weed Question For Rand Basically Pushed Jeb Bush Into Admitting That Yep — He's Smoked Pot
When we look back on one of the more awkward moments of the debate, it will probably be this one. But it was also probably the most honest. It all happened when Tapper posed a question to Sen. Rand Paul about legalizing medical marijuana, and Paul responded by hinting at the hypocrisy of his fellow candidates — some of whom have smoked weed themselves, yet argue for legalization against it.
Seizing the moment, Tapper pushed Rand to give up who on the stage he was implying smoked pot. Though Rand refused to give up any of his fellow candidates, Jeb Bush quickly stepped in to admit that yes, he smoked weed several decades ago — but that doesn't mean he supports its legislation now. "Forty years ago I smoked marijuana and I admitted it, “ Bush said. “I’m sure other people did and didn’t want to admit it in front of 40 million people."
Of course, he couldn't help but apologize for it to one person in particular — his mom. The candidate even went so far as to later tweet out an apology to Barbara herself, once the debate wrapped.
Yep; all in all the second GOP debate was exactly what Tapper promised it to be — a pretty good fight. Though at least some valiantly tried to rise above it, so long as Trump is still in the game, I think it's safe to say we'll be in for a lot more where this came from.