Commentary

Battle Of The TV Republican Stars: Cage Match Division

CNN’s "Battle of the Network Star Republicans /Part Deux" turned out to be an unexpectedly long, and strange, political/pop cultural/TV mashup.

So many flashes of this "debate" seemed to suggest other TV moments -- from sitcoms to reality programming -- that I’m just going to riff on all that the show suggested.

It started off sweetly enough, just like the recent Miss America broadcast, with a line of earnest contenders standing together as each got his/her introductory moment on camera. As with the aforementioned "scholarship" pageant, the debaters tried to shine and connect with the audience by sharing upbeat personal tidbits about their home lives, home states, families and hobbies.

"Good evening, everyone," said Mr. Kentucky, Rand Paul, for example. "My wife, Kelly, and I have been married for nearly 25 years, and I spend my days defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."

Chris Christie tried to distinguish himself from the pack by asking Mrs. Cleaver -- I mean the CNN control room -- to turn the cameras on the audience, instead of himself. I detected a tiny note of Eddie Haskell in the sudden-niceness department, but the embattled New Jersey governor did manage to bring a refreshing "can’t we all just get along and stop talking about Carly and Trump?" vibe to the evening.

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Whereas The Donald was getting even right out of the gate, when from out of nowhere, he announced: "Well, first of all, Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage. He’s number 11, he’s got 1% in the polls, and how he got up here, there’s far too many people anyway."

A few seconds after the equivalent of yelling at the old Kentucky eye surgeon to get off his lawn, Trump assured us: "I think I have a great temperament."

Indeed, as the Three-Hour Tour (to borrow a phrase from the "Gilligan’s Island" jingle) dragged on, many other TV mainstays came to mind: "Celebrity Jeopardy," "Celebrity Death Match," "Walking Dead," "American Idol."  and, certainly, "Survivor."

As a viewer, I had a hard time staying awake.

So I imagine that for the candidates, having to remain upright and coherent while standing under the hot lights behind that podium for three hours was an extreme physical challenge, akin to any of the bizarre trials that "Survivor" contenders had to endure to "outwit, outplay and outlast."

Except these CNN contestants looked less like sexy island castaways and more like models for a Men’s Wearhouse commercial. (Well, 10 of them in blue jackets and red ties were “Gonna like the way they looked.” Carly had her own fun, ferocious, female power suit happening.)

The set, an auditorium at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library — with Reagan’s actual Air Force One airplane as the backdrop, dwarfing the pageantry of politicians fanned out in front — lent an aura of fundamental male power and thrust to the proceedings.  

And you know what they say about a gun appearing in act one that has to go off by act three? I wondered whether the show would end with the 10 men and one woman actually boarding the plane, (and taking a page from "Oprah," bringing out John Travolta as the pilot) and taking off.

That could have led to a very special episode of "Lost" or perhaps "Fantasy Island" -- although the contestants seemed more intent on screaming "Jake, Jake, Jake!"  than "de plane!"

Speaking of Jake, over the years, CNN host Jake Tapper has proven to be a quick study and a terrific TV interviewer. So I was surprised and annoyed by his many-pronged, leading-the-witness-style questions. Rather than directly asking the candidates for their stances on the issues, these requests felt more like Mr. Rogers’ instructions from hell: "Please turn to your neighbor on the left, and tell him why you hate him and why you’d never trust him."

Bringing up the unpleasant things that your fellow stars have said about you in previous episodes also brought to mind the "Real Housewives Reunion" episodes at the end of each "RH" season. That’s when Bravo’s Andy Cohen, who has to act as moderator at these events, shows clips of the most outrageous disses and then tries to stay in control of the panel, or at least to not get body-slammed.

But back to the CNN contenders.

The heart of the evening, of course, came in the interaction between Carly Fiorina and the Donald. Fiorina absolutely owned the evening in her response to Trump’s previous affront about her face. Earlier in the week, he was famously quoted in Rolling Stone saying, in relation to the former HP CEO, "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?" Later, he tried to cover his tracks by insisting that he was actually talking about her "persona."

But Carly, whose PAC had already released a well-written and produced commercial in response, chose the perfect time to shoot back: "Women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said." She received huge applause. So she certainly can play the gender card when she wants to.

"I think she’s got a beautiful face, and I think she’s a beautiful woman," Trump countered lamely, only adding more condescension and cluelessness to his error. With a tap of his eyebrows, he seemed to realize that his sudden conversion about Carly’s looks seemed less than authentic. My thought was that there will be hell to pay for whichever consultant suggested that line.  

But while talking the feminist talk that women are "not a special interest group" and mentioning that her party was the party of the suffragettes, Fiorina also talked about de-funding Planned Parenthood over harvested tissues. But her description of seeing a Planned Parenthood video of a "fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking" was proven to be entirely wrong.

There was the biggest problem of the evening -- that there was not a single follow-up to fallacious statements.

It was also disappointing that Carly chose not to name a woman for the $10 bill. And it was ridiculous and belittling to women for Huckabee to name his wife and Carson to name his mother.

Along the way, while candidate Jeb seemed to be much energized (close to the code name he chose for the Secret Service, Eveready), he also flubbed the response for the same softball question. “Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher,” he said. Way to promote an important women in American history! Not so incidentally, Thatcher was a friend of Poppy Bush — and was famous for surrounding herself with men and enjoying the Queen Bee status.

And that brought to mind another TV quiz show: "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?"

But really, it circled back to the Miss America pageant. That’s when Miss Colorado received the exact same query from the judges. Her answer? That important historical figure, Ellen DeGeneres.

30 comments about "Battle Of The TV Republican Stars: Cage Match Division".
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  1. David Kleeman from Dubit, September 18, 2015 at 11:14 a.m.

    Perfect summary.

    Overall, the GOP theme is "We have nothing to fear; but fear, it sells."

  2. Tom Weisend from Wayfair, September 18, 2015 at 11:26 a.m.

    And Barbra, you deserve a special Emmy for just subjecting yourself to this spectacle. It must have been like living through an extended version of that Rob Lowe/Snow White musical number that opened the Oscars telecast all those years ago, only the dancing was much less graceful (and, except for Carly Fiorina, the costumes were dreadful).

  3. Tom Weisend from Wayfair, September 18, 2015 at 11:28 a.m.

    I meant to type Barbara, not the Streisand ellision. Sorry about that chief (to keep with the old TV show theme).

  4. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, September 18, 2015 at 11:43 a.m.

    The scariest part of the evening: suppose Lindsay Graham is right. 

  5. Brian Kelly from brian brands, September 18, 2015 at 11:49 a.m.

    what is the connection between Christie and Trump over the failure of Atlantic City?
    why was Christie so cozy with Trump as they made their way to the pandimonium podium?

    what notable accomplishment does Huckabee have that allows him to say, "we all have accomplished notable things"?

    why does Rubio get so nervous?

    does a lack of a 9/11 repeat qualify as "keeping us safe"?  and if so, then can't the current POTUS make that claim too?

    a lament over "sophomoric behavior" while a food fight breaks out among 11 potential POTUS on a stage infront of an airplace on a prime time TV show.

    why not ask questions of the candidates that pivot the spectacle from Reality Show to reality?

    how does this compare to the "Lincoln Douglas Debates"?  

  6. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund, September 18, 2015 at 11:57 a.m.

    Yeah, that was something alright. CNN managed to make the first FOX debate look dignified. And, personally, I liked that the only woman on stage refused to be drawn into the cheap theatrics of picking a Saint Estrogen for the $10 bill. 

  7. Bruce Dundore from Lazaroff/Dundore, September 18, 2015 at 12:54 p.m.

    I got scared. Our military, which spends 15 times more than all the world's militaries combined, is too small and weak. History shows that spending all your treasure on you military marks the end of Empire. They want to build a wall against those not like them, then they don't want to talk to any world leader that might disagree with their righteouness. They beleive that respect is based on fear, when fear only breeds contempt and a desire to destroy that which you are afraid of. They want to tear up treaties negotiated by all the major world powers to keep in check the most stable government in the Middle East right now. They still believe that swords are better than plowshares in all cases, and still want to reduce taxes on the wealthy- minus the theoretical talk of hedge fund penalities. And as they screamed that Obama- a senator- had no political experience, they now push forth a surgeon, a reality show host, and a failed tech CEO. Their grasp of history is made of silly string, and somehow, they want to cure cancer, while ending Planned Parenthood because of a bogus film that showed the need to harvest tissue to do just that. Trump still wants to round up 11 million immigrants and will probabley make the uniforms for his shock troops at a low cost Mexican factory. Last time I saw all these thoughts running through politics was at the Topography of Terror museum in Berlin. The rhetoric led to a fearful population that allowed Hitler to do anything he wanted. This group isn't funny. They are truly scary.

  8. david marks from self, September 18, 2015 at 1:01 p.m.

    Always a uniquely brilliant perspective from Barbara Lippert, transforming convention into hilarity. I love this piece.

  9. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 18, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.

    Bruce, the U.S. spends about as much as seven other countries combined; the list is China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, The UK, France and Germany---the last three having dramatically cut spending in the past ten years. We don't outspend the entire world  fifteen times over and there are growing concerns that recent reductions and failure to develop new military technologies is allowing "friendly" nations like Russia and China to close the huge gap we once had over them. You may not be scared---but I am.

  10. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners, September 18, 2015 at 1:47 p.m.

    Loved this and glad to be part of the "hive mind."  We can only be thankful that there was no swimsuit competition, that they didn't have to answer questions about "Deflategate" (and Trump's pal Tom Brady) and that no one suggested Anita Bryant or Ann Coulter for the $10.

  11. Alan Wasserstrom from None, September 18, 2015 at 2:53 p.m.

    Other than the comment that Fiorina absolutely owned the evening and the reference to Reagan's Air force 1 plane having to do with fundamental male power I thought this article more than fairly captured the essence, high and low points, of this debate written with both serious analysis and a deservedly light heartedness that some comments in this overly long debate provided. Nice to read an incisive and very readable article that should be reread as we go along in this campaign process that SCOTUS has made overly long for most of us to remember the highs and lows of September 2015.

  12. Mark Paul from Mark Paul, September 18, 2015 at 3:21 p.m.

    My sympathies for enduring that broadcast, but the truth is that only someone who's written about media for as long as you have can truly understand this gruesome process.

    It's casting, not politics. Somewhere, Paddy Chayefsky is laughing hysterically as what he saw was happening to TV news has now spread to the subject of news. Trump focuses on the ratings he generates; Fiorina is almost certainly the worst CEO of a major corporation in US history, but she's only judged really by the quality of her performance. 

    Dundore is right; Trump is a constant invitation to violate Godwin's law. In a Trump administration it's easy to imagine Latino concentration camps. What will they be called? That's a job for a copywriter or a playwright, not a political journalist.

    St. Ronald's Air Force One was quite a backdrop. That's one expensive souvenir—did the Reagan Library buy it from the government? For how much? 

  13. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, September 18, 2015 at 4:02 p.m.

    You know it's bad for the GOP when my near-80 year old mother, who hasnt voted for a Democrat in decades, is telling  me she hopes Joe Biden gets in the race. "He's not stupid and he knows how the political system works," she says. The Republican base knows they've got a bunch of clowns, and it's why Trump and Carson (and probably soon Fiorina) have surged; the politicians are phony failures and the American populace still isn't quite as dumb as the Establishment thinks. 

    Say what you will about Trump and I agree he has the potential for great danger, but at the moment I still think he's a positive force for channeling American anger against the people who desrvie it: The failed Republican leadership. Who would be doing this as successfully as he is?

    Trump is the flip side of the same coin as Bernie Sanders, and Trump's ascension bodes well for Bernie. The American Vox Populi is PISSED OFF and there feels greater opportunity for bloodless societal shift domestically than at any point since the height of the Vietnam War. Alhtough I guess that wasn't so bloodless considering the assassinations, Civil Rights protests, Kent State, etc., etc. 

  14. A Pnny from ActionThink, September 18, 2015 at 4:13 p.m.

    Is it going to get worser and worser? We should just make it reality show, we're halfway there already. Something like Big Brother and they would have to play games where they would have to make choices, are they based on their heart or what they think will capture voter's hearts. (c)

  15. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA replied, September 18, 2015 at 4:27 p.m.

    Check that. Just read about the Muslim comment. Bridge too far, Donald. Ugh. 

  16. Bill Weber from Bill Weber Studios, September 18, 2015 at 4:52 p.m.

    Mr. Rogers...  Fifth Graders... grade school taunts...  just another day in the Republimentary schoolyard!

  17. Feminista Fan from The Past, Present and Future, September 18, 2015 at 5:12 p.m.

    Brilliant commentary Barbara Lippert.  Better than anything I have heard on the "news", that's for sure.  

    We have another year until the actual election.  Maybe Barbara can cover it like she did Mad Men?  Wouldn't even have to change the name of this blog.

  18. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc., September 18, 2015 at 5:30 p.m.

    Barbara, good job. It took the debates to get you past Mad Men so it's a good thing then.

  19. Melanie Howard from self employed, September 18, 2015 at 9:48 p.m.

    Excellent column! It was like a bad variety show. I honestly don't know how SNL is going to parody the candidates this year, they're doing such a splendid job themselves. Really, once you're out of the first grade, you're not allowed to use your mom for your "most admired woman" report. Maybe next time the moderators can begin with a simpler question like "Name five foreign countries."

  20. marnie delaney from doodlebug, September 18, 2015 at 10:51 p.m.

    The candidates are awful and the "moderators" bear no resemblance to newspersons.  I don't know if the media fears the Republican Party, one or more of the candidates or perhaps they are just disinterested in providing valuable information. Why are there no challenges to the lies.  Why can certain people interrupt and others not.  Why do moderators allow themselves to be dragged into the debate as witnesses. Are the various networks run by business people who see the news as a "loser"?   Are there no more conscientious reporters in the world (I actually know that's not true but geez...why these guys?) Despite my utter disgust with those running for President as Republicans (I'm actually rather used to that) the disgust I feel with the coverage/reporting is utterly "huge".  Here is a link to some middle school debate rules.  Perhaps someone can get this to the appropriate authorities.  https://debate.uvm.edu/dcpdf/MSPDPFormat_003.pdf

  21. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER replied, September 19, 2015 at 8:17 a.m.

    Re: question about Abe vs Stephen debate. Lincoln lost the debates, but couple of years later was President. Big circ builder for newspapers, I suppose. Losing before winning is a not uncommon thing as we remember Nixon coming back from losing Governorship to the elder Brown; Bush I losing Senate Race to even elder Lloyd Bentsen; Reagan losing first attempt at nomination in '76; and most demonstrably FDR flopping in VP race in 1920 only to come back and win four times.
    The observation of reactions to the debate all over the internet point to a clearer divide between voters and viewers than any earlier debates, even Romney vs Obama or Gore vs Bush.  What is remarkable of course is CNN's audience for this match was their biggest in history. The Democrat debate is next and the arguments over the metric system, internet servers, and whether they will let Webb into the debate will be interesting. Joe Biden is clearly running the best campaign among them all, perhaps he has hired Neil Kinnock as head speech writer and instead of appearing overbearingly ambitious, sits in his Amtrak seat look into the sunrise. Or sunset.

  22. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER replied, September 19, 2015 at 8:22 a.m.

    SUGGESTIONS:
    Hillary Clinton on the $3 bill; Donald Trump on the $1,000,000,000 bill; Lincoln Chafee on the $2.1324 bill; Sam Walton on $9.99 bill.

  23. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER replied, September 19, 2015 at 8:59 a.m.

    PRESIDENT Obama is not a Muslim; he is a Baptized Congregant of The Trinity United Church of Church. Muslims regard the Trinity as polytheism and thus Trinitarians are in the cross hairs of the their swords if swords had crosshairs.

  24. Roger Furman from Voodoovox, September 19, 2015 at 12:46 p.m.

    I thought the entire evening reminded me of LET'S MAKE A  (Iran) DEAL>>>

  25. Eva Dillon from Self, September 19, 2015 at 3:22 p.m.

    Always dead on.  Always entertaining.  Love Barbara's writing.

  26. Jim English from The Met Museum, September 19, 2015 at 10:03 p.m.

    I vote for Carly.  Trump got it right,  she is a beautiful woman -- and her "face" wouild put some class back on a $10 bill.

  27. Bob Wilson from Access Resources, September 20, 2015 at 3:25 p.m.

    The film clip of Ms. Colorado on the Ellen show of 9/17/15 is terrific.  She is bright, articulate, lightning fast and totally charming.  Now, it is not necessary that any presidential candidate possess all of those same traits. BUT an effective president absolutely must have vision, great advisors and the ability to charm/persuade.  I don’t know about her vision or advisors but Kelley Johnson beats both Republicans and Democrats in charm and persuasion.  My hope is that Joe Biden’s entry will push both parties to a higher level.  He does not appear to be a genius but he is capable of vision, garnering great advisors and persuading.  

  28. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, October 10, 2015 at 2:21 p.m.

    The world revolves around fear from millions of years ago through to the future.

  29. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, October 10, 2015 at 2:31 p.m.

    Please stop calling them conservatives. Conservatives are not fascists overall. These are all fascists.

  30. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 10, 2015 at 3:04 p.m.

    Barbara, I was away and never saw it, but you make it sound like we are in for a dumb war. Sure they can curry more favor and power and profits from and for their friends supplying military needs, but that old stuff they are supplying will not suffice or outmanuever the newer the technologies or compare the the sacrafice of overpopulated areas willing to die. So what if we bring back the draft and intern 11 million people ? You wonder why they have cut back on education including civics..not. The little green men on Mars eating the moon's cheese is just the tip of the iceberg. Jake Tapper is skewing and screwing journalism. Send him to the battlefields or someplace as rural as possible.

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