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We’ve seen the Fox debate, with its uniquely “Fox” line of questions. We’ve watched the candidates sweat through CNN’s three-hour inquisition. Now it’s CNBC’s turn to put the Republican presidential candidates on the spot. CUI news editor Andrew Haubner and I spoke to CNBC debate moderator Carl Quintanilla and producer Scott Matthews about what the debate might look like.
Facts or Fireworks?
The producers and moderators of a presidential debate have an enormous responsibility to the nation. The outcome of the show they put on has the potential to change the way people vote. They have to take informative, in-depth political discussion and turn it into television that we can all understand and enjoy. How will CNBC balance information with entertainment?
“Whether it’s entertaining is the candidates’ decision,” Matthews said. “Our goal is to make it substantive. Voters have to make choices, and we want to bring into sharp relief what those choices are.”
“Our brand is not as much about entertaining the audience as it is about engaging them,” Quintilla said. “If it happens it happens naturally — if the candidates drum it up themselves. We’re not going to do anything just to create an over-the-top reaction.”
The Donald Trump Show?
In the first two GOP debates this year, Donald Trump took the majority of the air time. However, Trump was leading the polls by a substantial margin when those debates took place. Leading up to tonight’s debate, Trump’s lead has narrowed substantially, and Ben Carson’s share of the polls has more than tripled. Will Trump steal the show again?
“In our prep we’re always mindful that all of the candidates get fair treatment,” Matthews said, though both Matthews and Quintanilla acknowledge that the candidates themselves will be responsible for their own airtime.
“Sometimes candidates will jump in or fall back, and that might give the sense that someone’s being favored. But in some cases, they’re just really trying to get in there, and get their message heard,” Matthews continued.
At the end of the day, this could be why Trump’s campaign has gained so much attention. He’s a media personality.
“It’s all scripted.”
I’ve talked to a number of people who believed that presidential debates were scripted, or at least that all of the questions had been decided upon long prior to the debate. This sentiment somewhat reflects the distrust that the millennial generation feels for politicians and large institutions, which was highlighted in a 2015 poll by Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
Quintanilla, as a moderator, feels that the reality is quite the opposite.
“We’re not robots,” Quintanilla said. “It’s not like we read, and wait, and read again. We listen, and we watch for inconsistencies and falsehoods and diversionary tactics. If we hear something that doesn’t sound right, we’re gonna speak up and get it clarified or get it corrected. That’s why we’re there. Otherwise you could just toss index cards their way and have them answer them.”
So far, the topic of student debt hasn’t played a major part on the GOP side of the 2016 presidential race. This week’s debate is taking place on a college campus, though, where around 30,000 millennials study. A study by PEW Research revealed that millennials are the first generation to have more student loan debt than the two previous generations did at the same age, and this debate’s topic is the economy. So, will it come up?
“I think the fact that the debate is here is not an accident,” Matthews said. “It speaks to the party sophistication. Marketers and campaigners know what a force millennials are.”
It sounds like we’ll get at least a few minutes of discussion on the topic. The main candidates’ debate begins at 6 p.m. on CNBC.