The Long and Tortuous CBS/National Journal Debate

Posted: Nov 14, 2011 2:00 PM

Billed as the Commander in Chief Republican presidential debate, the CBS/National Journal foreign policy debate fell flat. Sitting inside Wofford College’s Friendship Hall, I got to witness the pre-show and commercial break activity the rest of America missed. When CBS anchor Scott Pelley introduced himself to the audience around 7:30pm he came across as a stuck up snob and somehow you knew the show wasn’t going to be great.

Talking in a professorial tone, Pelley told the audience if they wanted to take pictures “do it now” so you won’t distract us during the debate with your flashes. National Journal’s Major Garrett came across as a much nicer, gracious moderator. As the debate commenced, Pelley adopted a belligerent and pugnacious style of questioning, admonishing the candidates like children when they exceeded their allotted time for answering questions.

Pelley continuously warned the candidates, “we are going to stick to the 30 seconds of response time” and rudely cut off responses throughout the evening. In his zeal to be the time police, Pelley wrongly accused Mitt Romney of hogging time, as Romney attempted to respond to one of the first questions of the night. Romney told Pelley he hadn’t exceeded his 30 seconds and Pelley was forced to admit he was wrong.

As the crowd got rowdy, Pelley admonished them too, saying he wouldn’t tolerate booing of candidates. The stern professor was hard at work throughout the evening. Finally, Pelley punctuated his poor performance by abruptly cutting off Governor Perry’s final response of the evening. During the commercial break after the first hour of the debate painfully came to an end, Scott Pelley remarked in bewilderment, WOW that was an hour? Yes and you asked the questions.

After such yawn of an evening, it was perplexing to see Pelley prance into the bar at the Marriott Spartanburg Hotel to a rousing round of applause from CBS staffers gathering for post debate drinks. Pelley’s performance was anything but Oscar worthy yet he clinked glasses with his colleagues and patted himself on the back for a job poorly done.

The best questioning of the night came from Senator Lindsay Graham who asked the candidates if they would continue the Bush anti-terror policies of military trials for terrorists, keeping Guantanamo open and using enhanced interrogation. Governor Rick Perry had one of the best responses to this question and a follow up from Pelley on handling US national security. Perry said terrorists want to kill our soldiers in a minute so he would pursue enhanced interrogation and anything to protect the United States and our military. Of course Newt shined, saying the nation’s entire national security needs an overhaul and we need to get our proverbial shit together.

My evening of live debate blogging wouldn’t have been complete without some with some humor from Herman Cain, who sang “I Believe in Me” at his post debate party also held at the Marriott Spartanburg in South Carolina. Cain ended his serenade to himself with “We gonna win this thing.” With his poll numbers dropping, I guess it’s good Cain believes in his candidacy because I’m not so sure many conservatives still do.