Feisty Debate Pits ‘Undercard’ Candidates Against Each Other

By Mark Joyella 

Overshadowed by the delayed arrival at the Reagan Library of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, the undercard debate got underway just after 6:15.

Lindsey Graham thanked CNN for “having people here,” a reference to Fox News’ early debate which played out to an empty hall.

The first question was, fittingly, about Trump. Asked by Jake Tapper about breaking Ronald Reagan‘s famous commandment not to attack other Republicans, Bobby Jindal said “Let’s stop treating Donald Trump as a Republican…He’s not a Republican, He’s not a Democrat…He believes in Donald Trump.”

Later in the debate, George Pataki questioned the focus on the frontrunner. “This is an im­port­ant elec­tion with an enorm­ous num­ber of chal­lenges fa­cing the Amer­ic­an people and the first four ques­tions are about Don­ald Trump.”

“The four of you have a combined seven decades in public office,” Tapper said to Sen. Graham, asking if political experience is a liability in an election where outsiders are trending, and veterans are lagging. “I hope you believe that experience matters,” Graham said. “Let’s not trade one novice for another.”

An early question about immigration showcased CNN’s staging and direction of the debate, which has candidates at lecterns placed very close to each other, allowing for frequent use of two-shots setting up back-and-forth conflict between candidates.

Dana Bash and Tapper heightened the tension by frequently calling on candidates to clarify their remarks, and to invite opposing candidates to comment on other candidates’ answers.