Behind-the-scenes: The makings of a presidential debate

Even though it follows on the heels of 13 similar contests, tonight’s GOP debate still snags a couple of “firsts” for itself. It’s the first debate ever hosted by The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute — and the first in Washington D.C. since the 1960s. Nevertheless, to anybody who tunes in to CNN at 8 p.m. ET, the event will look surprisingly familiar: CNN designed it. As, so far, the CNN debates have — aesthetically speaking — been especially impressive, that’s just one more reason to tune in.

Ordinarily, says special events producer Kate Lunger, CNN has months to prepare for a debate. But that wasn’t the case with tonight’s event. The CNN special events team had just weeks to bring together the kind of dazzling set that has come to characterize the CNN contests. Ever wondered how they do it? A camera in the hands of Heritage’s Brandon Stewart takes us behind the scenes:

It’s fun to watch the expedited construction captured in this video: If only folks really could build a background in the space of a sound bite! But I’d still argue the most important part of the vid comes midway, when Heritage president Ed Feulner reminds us that “providing for the common defense” is one of a few constitutionally-articulated purposes of the federal government — and, so, especially important for presidential candidates to address. This isn’t the first foreign policy debate the GOP candidates have faced — but the combined expertise of Heritage and AEI foreign policy scholars ensures the questions they receive tonight will be thought-provoking.

A reminder: The foreign policy crises that consumed various presidencies were never predicted (think 9/11), so leadership and decision-making skills are arguably more important to successful dealing with foreign policy than a specific plan to address current perceived threats. That is not to excuse ignorance of the current state of affairs or a lack of a specific plan — just to encourage viewers to consider concentrating on what candidates’ answers reveal about how they would deal with the unpredictable, as well as with the obvious.