As the top nine Republican candidates for president got comfortable on stage in Las Vegas on Tuesday night, CNN ushered in the fifth GOP debate with a cinematic opening that was intensely focused on all things national security. In reality, we should have all seen this coming, though. It's not the first time that CNN has held a Hollywood-esque debate in the Sin City.
Back in October, CNN hosted the first Democratic primary debate at the Wynn Las Vegas. That debate opened with a video montage of all five participating candidates: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, Martin O'Malley, and Lincoln Chafee. The two leading candidates — Clinton and Sanders — received most of the video's limelight, and viewers took to Twitter to compare the opening to something out of Iron Chef or America's Next Top Model. This time around, CNN chose a different hotel — The Venetian — but the same approach to a dramatic opening.
With nine candidates to include (and over-the-top Donald Trump among them), the opening montage was understandably dramatic, but also shortchanged some of the less popular candidates (less popular according to the polls, at least). It included clips from each of the candidates' interviews, campaign rallies, and more — and positioned some of the main contenders against each other, including Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. On the other hand, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich were relegated to brief mentions of "the rest of the field."
Rubio was the first candidate featured, in a clip from one of his campaign appearances where he said, "We are at war with terrorists, and we will win that war." A clip of Cruz showed him saying, "If you go and join ISIS, you are signing your death warrant." Then, there was Trump's well known declaration: "We're going to bomb the [beep] out of them." The pattern continued for several candidates, and intense footage from the recent Paris and San Bernardino attacks was dispersed throughout. In case you didn't already know that Tuesday's debate was going to focus on national security, you had to have figured it out within the first five seconds of the opening video montage.
The montage's narrator quickly ran through the latest poll rankings — the very ranking that landed candidates on the primetime stage. Trump was still situated at the top, with Cruz and Rubio not far behind. In fact, the narrator said that Cruz and Rubio were "vying to be the GOP's choice if the frontrunner falls." That might make it sound like they're just playing for second place, but it is still more flattering than how some candidates were referenced.
According to the montage, Ben Carson is "trying to bounce back." Chris Christie and Jeb Bush were singled out, but not with a glowing report about their numbers (largely because there isn't such a report to mention). Finally, Fiorina, Kasich, and Paul were grouped together as "the rest of the field, looking for a breakout moment." Clearly, that breakout moment was not the debate's opening montage because they might as well have not been in it.