Bipartisanship: Both sides complain about next debate moderator

posted at 12:41 pm on October 15, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

There haven’t been many points of bipartisanship in this general-election season, so perhaps we should celebrate Mark Halperin’s report at Time of one rare instance — no matter how meaningless it is.  The next debate moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, offered her perspective on her role last week in tomorrow’s townhall-style debate, and both presidential candidates immediately filed objections with the Commission on Presidential Debates:

In a rare example of political unity, both the Romney and Obama campaigns have expressed concern to the Commission on Presidential Debates about how the moderator of the Tuesday town hall has publicly described her role, TIME has learned.

While an early October memorandum of understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns and the bipartisan commission sponsoring the debates suggests CNN’s Candy Crowley would play a limited role in the Tuesday-night session, Crowley, who is not a party to that agreement, has done a series of interviews on her network in which she has suggested she will assume a broader set of responsibilities. As Crowley put it last week, “Once the table is kind of set by the town-hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, what about X, Y, Z?’”

The problem with that is the purpose of the format itself.  Crowley’s moderating strategy works fine in a normal debate format, with just two candidates, one moderator, and a live audience on mute.  In a townhall debate, it’s supposed to be the voters (likely voters supplied by Gallup, in this case) that drive the conversation, with the moderator on board just to monitor time allowances.  It’s the least-interesting format for a moderator, which is probably why Crowley has chafed at the limitations in the memorandum:

“In managing the two-minute comment periods, the moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic … The moderator will not ask follow-up questions or comment on either the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidates during the debate or otherwise intervene in the debate except to acknowledge the questioners from the audience or enforce the time limits, and invite candidate comments during the two-minute response period.”

The format itself is kind of a cheat, though.  Townhall debates use pre-selected questions, not extemporaneous choices, which makes it look more dramatic than it is.  The voters do drive the conversation, but only in a carefully-controlled environment.  Crowley might be pardoned for making the debate a little more honestly spontaneous than it actually will be.

Not that it will make much difference, anyway.  The crucial debate was the first one, where Mitt Romney had to show that he can stand on the same stage as Barack Obama and look every bit as presidential as the incumbent — and ended up looking far more presidential.  Obama wants to come back in this debate to recast himself as ebullient and energetic, but Bob Woodward explains why that might be a trap, too:

Any changes made by Obama in this debate will be considered in the context of his flop two weeks ago.  He can’t escape that, and in this format Obama has only limited opportunities to get aggressive with Romney, anyway.  The best he can hope is that Romney suffers an unprecedented failure, which is unlikely given the crucible of the twenty-plus debates in the Republican primary.

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Isn’t there a Black Sabbath song about CC?

Sherman1864 on October 16, 2012 at 8:40 AM

Isn’t there a Black Sabbath song about CC?

Sherman1864 on October 16, 2012 at 8:40 AM

Candy Crowley inspired?

CorporatePiggy on October 16, 2012 at 8:51 AM

Close. It’s solo Ozzy.

TMOverbeck on October 16, 2012 at 9:19 AM

Candy chooses the questions. She will control the topics. She will choose what interests her. We are not trusting of the media. They seek to cover Obama’s ass and this is where her choice of questions will come into play.
If she is fair and thinks of the American people instead of herself, fellow media, and Obama’s tush, she will be rated a plus.
We shall see?

Delsa on October 16, 2012 at 9:48 AM

Wow, she has a great plastic surgeon.
She looks 10-15 years younger than 4 years ago.
As opposed to LiLo, after the knife, who looks 10-15 older.

esblowfeld on October 16, 2012 at 10:09 AM

Will we see the all of the questions asked but not offered? I suspect not.

diogenes on October 16, 2012 at 2:31 PM

She was actually decent tonight, I thought.

Despite the tingle up her leg. (Tell me I don’t have a visual of that. It’s like a cab ride through the Holland tunnel).


NoPain on October 16, 2012 at 10:56 PM