Second debate highlights candidates, not policies

By: Nick Bergeman ~Staff Writer~

There may still be more than four months until the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, but the 2016 presidential race is already in full swing and hotly contested. Though the Democratic ticket has its share of competition, the Republican Party appears to have the corner on the dramatic tension. At the second Republican debate, hosted by CNN on Sept. 16, the 11 candidates in the primetime debate were eager to impress and survive another day in the race.

The candidates were arranged on stage according to recent poll data on their standings, with the highest polling candidates positioned in the middle and the lowest on the outside. The participating candidates, from left to right, were Sen. Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

In the first debate hosted by Fox News, the 10 candidates on stage fought for the spotlight, but the second primetime debate brought an entirely new level of conflict among the 11 candidates. The debate ran more than three hours and contained fierce arguments between candidates. Kennedy Copeland, president of Xavier’s College Republicans, attributes this mostly to the questions posed by the CNN moderators, which she said turned the debate into more of an entertainment event than a proper political debate.

Many of the questions that moderator and CNN journalist Jake Tapper posed to the candidates asked them to either defend past statements or respond to statements about them made by other candidates. Copeland said that this caused the event to lose much of the value of a proper political debate.

“We’re not focusing on the policies, we’re not focusing on America. We’re focusing on people, and candidates and the reality show-esque,” said Copeland. Though the fighting caused certain conflicts, the audience still got a chance to see the frontrunners discuss most of the issues important to Republicans in the election cycle, such as how to combat ISIS, Planned Parenthood, same-sex marriage, the economy and the Iran Nuclear deal, among others.

However, Copeland said that the discussion retained the feeling of a reality show because of the man at the center of the stage: Donald Trump. “If Trump stays in (the race), the election will stay on the reality show side until people say ‘enough of this, this isn’t what we actually need to talk about,” said Copeland.

Post-debate polls have shown that Rubio and Fiorina have received the largest bumps in polling numbers from the debate, with Fiorina now pulling into second place behind Trump. On the contrary, Walker received the largest dip, which led to his dropping from the race on Sept. 21. In his announcement to drop, Walker called other candidates struggling in the polls to drop from the race to narrow the field, which he hopes will hurt Trump as the frontrunner.

As the field narrows, the debates will become smaller and will likely contain more focus on the issues to help determine the real candidates for the nomination, Copeland said. Stressing that a proper debate is important to the political process, Copeland said that she looks forward to more candidates dropping out to narrow the voices in the field, which will help voters find the candidate they believe in. The next Republican debate will be broadcast on CNBC on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at the University of Colorado Boulder.