16 Types of Questions Asked in the 2019 Democratic Primary Presidential Debates
January 6, 2020
7th Democratic Presidential Debate Moderators Stoked the Fire Resulting in a Spat
January 15, 2020

Less than a week before the 7th Democratic Presidential Primary debate, CNN finally got around to announcing the moderators: CNN’s host of the “Situation Room”: Wolf Blitzer and CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip as well as chief political correspondent for The Des Moines Register, Brianne Pfannenstiel.

The good news is that the field has narrowed down to five candidates: Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – although there is one more day to qualify!

Wolf Blitzer is the only seasoned vet on the moderator dias: he moderated the 5th, 11th and 19th Republican Primary Debates in 2011/2, the 5th and 10th Republican Primary Debates in 2015/6, and the 9th Democractic Primary Debate in 2016.  Even though he has moderated six debates, his reputation is rather erratic:

  • Politico’s Hadas Gold reported on the 5th Republican Primary in 2016 that “Chief moderator Wolf Blitzer remained fully in charge, at one point brushing off a braying Ted Cruz, seeking to inject himself into an exchange, with a cool, ‘These are the rules all of you agreed to.’”
  • Adweek’s Mark Joyella said of the 10th Republican Primary in 2016, “Many critics agreed CNN’s Wolf Blitzer took a beating in his attempts to reign in the chaos.  ‘By the end, he seemed to have completely ceded control of the debate,’ writes Slate’s Isaac Chotiner. ‘Blitzer’s questions were soft, and his follow-ups indirect…it was a failure of hosting.’  Ken Tucker, writing at Yahoo, said the ‘CNN moderators allowed the candidates to steamroll over the rules of the debate.’”

Two completely different styles.  Uh-oh.  What are we in for?  Hardball or a softie moderator?

There are two things I know for sure about Blitzer by looking at his past performances (Can’t comment on Phillip or Pfannestiel – yet):

  1. Blitzer has a sense of fairness at managing airtime.  For example, during the 11th Republican Debate in 2012, he gave fringe candidates “Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman… more opportunities to speak than in previous debates.”
  2. He also likes to create controversy.  There are many examples, but let’s look at the 5th Republican Debate in 2011 when Blitzer asked Ron Paul a hypothetical question as described by the LA Times:

“A healthy, 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides: You know what? I’m not going to spend 200 or 300 dollars a month for health insurance, because I’m healthy; I don’t need it,” Blitzer said. “But you know, something terrible happens; all of a sudden, he needs it. Who’s going to pay for it, if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?”

“In a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him,” Paul replied. Blitzer asked what Paul would prefer to having the government deal with the sick man.

“What he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself,” Paul said. “My advice to him would be to have a major medical policy, but not before —”

“But he doesn’t have that,” Blitzer said. “He doesn’t have it and he’s — and he needs — he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?”

“That’s what freedom is all about: taking your own risks.,” Paul said, repeating the standard libertarian view as some in the audience cheered.

“But congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?” Blitzer asked.

“Yeah,” came the shout from the audience.

What? That’s a debate between the candidate and the moderator. It should be between the candidates.

With only five candidates on the stage and lagging ratings, I imagine Blitzer and company will stoke the fire and stir up some controversy.


For more information, check out my website at www.RulesAnalyst.com.  Book me now to comment (live, Zoom, or pre-recorded interviews) on the next debate by calling me at 480.399.8489 or set up a time to talk here

Related Articles:

12 Moderator Mishaps that Derail a Presidential Debate

A Feeding Frenzy: The Second Night of the First Democratic Primary Debate

First Democratic Presidential Primary: The Beto & Booker Show!




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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.
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