On Tuesday night, in the aftermath of night one of CNN’s first presidential debates of the 2020 cycle, the reviews were lukewarm, at best. Did it handle night two, last night, any better?
Some observers noticed some slight improvements (there was 100 percent less John Delaney). But many of night one’s problems persisted. There was still too much focus on electability. Questions about climate change were still too far down on the agenda. The moderators, as they had done the night before, tried to stoke conflict between the candidates, sometimes apropos of nothing. In particular, they seemed determined to contrive a confrontation (apropos of a lot, in fairness) between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris: first in the sportscast-style intro, then via the night’s first question, about health care. At least that provoked an extended—by CNN debate standards—policy discussion. As proceedings continued, the biggest problem with night one—the moderators jumping in to stanch substantive discussions just as they were getting interesting—recurred.
Many viewers remained unimpressed. “These debates are a case study in why you don’t cede a critical aspect of the nomination process to people who just want to create drama,” Jamelle Bouie, of The New York Times, tweeted.
CNN has begged the question: how might we make the debates better? It’s not a new dilemma, but—with so much 2020 coverage stuck in the politics-as-entertainment mud—it’s taken on a fresh urgency. On Twitter, commentators batted around some suggestions. The debates
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