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BLITZER’S BLOG: The importance of debates
January 30th, 2012
03:48 PM ET

BLITZER’S BLOG: The importance of debates

By Wolf Blitzer, CNN

(CNN) - Because I’ve now moderated three of them, I know it will sound self-serving when I say I’ve really enjoyed watching all the Republican presidential debates. There have been about 20 so far, and they have been informative. Like the millions of Americans who’ve watched them on television, I’ve learned a great deal about the candidates. They’ve been really instrumental in shaping public attitudes.

Millions and millions of Americans who’ve watched the debates are now better-informed voters.

That’s why I’ve been so surprised to hear all the criticism.

Sen. John McCain, for example, says enough with the debates.

Like other Republicans, he fears that they have been too angry and will only help the Democrats in the general election. Many Republicans are indeed worried about the candidates airing all their dirty linen in public. Won’t the angry exchanges just provide talking points for President Obama’s re-election campaign?

Sure, there is that possibility. But there is also the possibility that the eventual Republican nominee will emerge from this primary struggle a much better candidate, one better equipped to debate Obama in the three officially sanctioned presidential debates in the fall.

I think you will agree that Mitt Romney, for example, has dramatically improved his debate performance in recent weeks. If he were to get the nomination, he will be much better prepared to take on Obama. The same goes for Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

Obama was a better general election candidate against McCain because he had all that practice dealing with Hillary Clinton.

Four years ago, I moderated four Democratic presidential debates and clearly saw Obama improve his debating skills.

Remember: If you want to be a good tennis player, you need to practice. If you want to be a world-class cellist, you need to practice. If you want to be a great debater, you need to practice.

As my dad used to say: “Practice, practice, practice.”

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Filed under: 2012 election • Debates
soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. Constructive CRITISISIM

    wolf blitzer good advice

    January 31, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Jessica P

      Wolf: Can we pin down the candidates on their positions? Should we appeal Obamacare; where will the uninsured acquire healthcare insurance and at what cost? Millions of Americans can not quality for Medicaid and can not afford the healthcare premiums! Why are we spending 6-9 billion on theFederal Prison system when there is no parole? How do the candidates propose to stop Iran' nuclear program; when nothing has worked thus far? I would like someone to cut through the chase with these candidates.

      February 15, 2012 at 7:05 am |
  2. Oliver El Paso, TX

    Hey Wolf, Santorum, Romney, Paul and Gingrich, I do not think they add up to hill of beans. I have not watch a full debate
    or really care to. Of the four clowns left you think they can beat President Obama?

    January 30, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  3. Michael Gonzales


    I agree with you on the importance of debates in terms of informing Americans as well as strengthening candidates. But at the last CNN debate, you waited until the very end to ask "What makes you the best candidate to defeat Barack Obama?" Seriously Wolf? You also spent much more time with Newt and Mitt. Just because CNN is airing the debate doesn't give you the right to bias the debate. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul received fewer questions and less air time than the "front runners." Rick has won one out of the three primaries and Ron Paul has recieved double digit votes in every state. Only 5% of the delegates have been decided and it would be nice if the media didn't try to dictate for me which candidates should still be running.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  4. Larry in Houston

    Wolf – I applaud you – Keep up the good work !! I know for a fact – between You & AC 360 – You guys are the BEST ! I will be looking forward to anderson's show – right after the vote counting is over with. Remember his last show – right AFTER the State of the Union Address ? – You were All there – and Anderson interviews everybody & their opinions – he has 6 people in the line of Q. & A. The only one who was in LEFT FIELD with anything to say, was Ari Fleichier – amazing, isn't it ? Wolf – Here is my suggestion : You guys need to trade Ari – and get a "twofer" Do you know what a "two-fer" is ? ( it means 2 for 1 ) If i were you, Wolf – I would go to my bosses at CNN – and see if you guys can Trade "The Ari" for Bob Beckel & Alan Combs – – I mean, you guys would get 2 home runs, vs. somebody who is nothing but a complainer, Wolf. I don't know what "the Ari" gets paid, but CNN is payin that guy Waay Too Much !!


    Larry in Houston

    January 30, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  5. El Flaco

    Vote for Gingrich! He is morally less inferior than Romney or Paul.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  6. timothy

    President Obama keeps winning these GOP debates and now the 2 goofiest GOPers, Cain and Palin (considering Perry, Bachmann, and Trump that is saying a lot!) are doing their best to re-elect Prez Obama.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm |

    we have debates to find out strenghs and weaknesses

    January 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  8. joesmith

    the money machine in this country has been able to dilude the facts for so long, the people, ( you know the people, of the people, by the people, and for the people, people ) have absolutely no clue..and it's people like blitzer, and the lobbists who throw un-godly amounts of money at our duly elected, that their very moral fiber has been corrupted beyond example; take the teamsters, they have 1.3 million members, they pay on average $40 a month union do the math, theres a lot of political favours can be bought with that kind of my case..

    January 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  9. DavidE7

    Wolf Blitzer has a point. Debates are ways to show how much depth people have when they voice their opinions and how well they are able to think on their feet. They also have a down side. Candidates with big money behind them get treated like favorites, stand in the center of the stage, and get the most air time. The media do the public a disservice when the debates are staged this way. Wolf Blitzer is one of the fairest of the announcers, but, as far as I am concerned, the media owners are in general enemies of America, and should be held accountable for the damage they do.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  10. Mike from Calgary

    Point is well made, but in Thursday debate where three candidates did not want to squander precious debate time on small or petty issues but rather to focus on big issues and visions for America, Mitt Romney wanted to spend more time dwelling on negative attacks based on made up facts ... and Wolf Blitzer allowed the guy who likes to fire people free rein and extra time. That was the low point in any CNN debate to date! Still much better than way debates conducted on NBC and especially Fox.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  11. edbonfla

    Wolf, you miss a very important point - the best debater is not always the best nominee. Being able to respond to a knife being stuck in your back by a rival is not a trait I am looking for in a candidate. I want to know what he/she is going to do to solve the nation's problems. Many of us have gotten tired of someone who has a similar ability as a good teleprompter reader - the current occupant of the Oval Office. I listen to the debates to hear what each candidate wants to do, not how well they "stab their rivals".

    January 30, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  12. Mike in No. VA


    Your points might have had some validity if the candidates had engaged in real debates; the kind we see in HS and College. As it stands now, there haven't been ANY debates.

    Rather, the 20+ "debates" we've seen this election season and in those past have been extended interviews. You and others ask questions and each candidate has an opportunity to answer (though most don't and use the time to say what they want to say). Imagine Meet the Press, Face the Nation, or Fox News Sunday with four guests and you won't be far off from these spectacles.

    As an independent, it would inform my decision about who to vote for if the candidates, and later the nominees, were to have a series of true debates on National Security, the Economy, Foreign Affairs, Education, and the Environment. Your job as moderator would be to keep them focused on the theme and speak about what they would do to solve our very serious problems in detail, rather then mouth platitudes.

    I remain undecided and unimpressed by all of the Republican/Libertarians and Mr. Obama.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Merritt

      I totally agree. All the debates have not provided any real meat to get one's arms around to determine who to vote for. A true debate should include a detailed question by the moderator, and then allow EACH of the candidates a minute or two, or predetermined amount of time to provide a detailed response. Most of the debates have been nothing but bad-mouthing each other, and nothing about what they plan to do as president.

      January 31, 2012 at 6:26 am |
  13. Kevin in SF

    Practice? Surely there are better reasons to hold primary debates than their value as warm-up drills for the candidates, no? Debates are a level playing field during which the candidates can make their positions clear – without the buffer that comes with writing your own advertisement. It's pretty clear that the candidates who don't like having debates are the ones that don't like being in them. Of course McCain doesn't like them!!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  14. Mike

    "Congressman Paul are you really electable? Will you say here and now that you will rule out a third party run?"
    "Speaker Gingrinch, Governor Romney has said that you went to Thailand and engaged in relations with a child? Would you care to respond to these accusations?"
    "Governor Romney, some say blah blah blah mandate."

    If you asked actual questions about actual differences, these debates could be informative. But you spend half an hour in each debate going over whatever is latest in the news cycle, as if that matters.

    Nobody has once challenged Santorum on what he'd actually do with Iran and what specific things might cause him to go to war there.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  15. Kenneth Krieger

    Our federal buget is no different than our own household budget. I have noticed that the liberal media gets diverted to social issues because they have not had a remedial math FLASH CARD course. I understand the budget. I also understand that 1800 gay marriages in Masschuetts is more important than 20 million Americans out of work to you and other liberals. Americans always do the right thing about social issues sooner or later. Liberals and Democrats never talk about Acorn vote stuffing, agressive unions and other Chicago style hooligan tactics. Please remember, JOBS JOBS JOBS Ken Krieger Cape Coral, Florida

    January 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  16. Jason

    Mr. Blitzer,

    I agree with you. Debates are a good thing and I don't think there have been too many. Romney has been close to the spotlight all along... but the other candidates have not been as prominently in the debate spotlight until more recently, so it is good to get to hear from all of them more as well.

    I appreciated you standing your ground when Gingrich tried to steamroll over you. I also felt the questions you asked of him and the other candidates were appropriate.

    Keep up the good work.

    Jason in Hawaii

    January 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  17. lgny

    The quality of the debates depends entirely on who runs them. The Brian Williams NBC debate was good. He asked tough questions, kept the audience silent and the candidates on topic. Fox was terrible, asking mostly softballs that never challenged the candidates. Thankfully, the Trump debate was canceled.

    Your performance was mediocre. For example, in the last one, you let the candidates ignore your question about rolling back Fannie/Freddie and go off into tired debates over who was the more crooked. The audience & Twitter questions are a waste of time since they are nearly always softballs by party loyalists.

    The bottom line... exert your journalistic rights to insist that they be real debates and not fake events.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Sven

      Had Stake Conference today was great. Where in Idaho and where in Utah? We have lived here in Utah for 6 years now. I love the Mountains. Do you own alot of land there in Nebraska?I agree with you 100%. Have you ever thought about rninung for Pulic Office? It sounds like you would have the tanacity to do so. You have a way with your words that is very clear and understandable to comprehend. Well the time is clearly approaching for the Primary voting to begin. Every one of my Christian friends that I am in touch with are voting for Romney, because they also see the necessity and the urgency to make a difference with their votes. The French's sound like wonderful people. I would like to meet them sometime and just say Thanks .

      May 23, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  18. jj

    I enjoy watching the moderators but not the contestants.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  19. macbill

    Even though I'll vote for Obama (he's has been a much better President than people are giving him credit for), I've watched all the debates. I've found them very informative not only about the personalities and postions about each candidate, but general positions of the Republican Party. I feel that they are even more important in the age of Super PACS because no matter how much money you have it can't hide who they really are.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  20. truentrooster

    its all a scam anyway; so debate ?

    January 30, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  21. Mike

    The importance of debates correlates with the importance of media relevance directly.

    Don't play the public for fools, CNN. At least not so obvious that even a fool could tell.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  22. New York

    Wolf –

    Where are the days of "reporting" the news and facts! You are clearly against Gingrich – and it is also clear that your show and coverage is trying to sway the public against him.

    I have watched all the debates and the obvious bias of your questions.

    If you want to do the American public a favor – do what you are supposed to do: report the facts and let the American public make deccisions. There is not a person that I know, be it Republican or Democrat that appreciates the behavior of the media these days.

    I just heard you say that Gingrich is stepping up the rhetoric about Romney. To be completely fair, are you going to tell me that Romney has not gotten personal or nasty with Gingrich? We know in fact that he has spent millions of dollars doing so!

    Stop making the electibility of the candidates a foregone conclusion!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • timothy

      If some candidates have baggage, then Newt Gingrich owns Samsonite. Give it up...

      January 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  23. migeli

    Guys like Santorum, Romney,and Gingrich are part of the problems of this country, not the solution.Especially the one
    who took his tax cuts and put them in Swiss. and Cayman Island bank accounts

    January 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  24. mnvasi

    You did an amazing job in bringing the real effort out – and the stand you took in getting an answer (and Mitt's help) for the Newt's accusations (on Mitt's bank accounts) – was a great case study (for years to come). There was no John King moment – which is great. Great Job!.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  25. Eric

    That is not accurate! A couple of debates, yes, to inform people. This dizzy pace and amount, NO. All it servers is to push people beyond the fatigue point and make mistakes. Only people who win is the News Media, who then have fresh blood to chase after.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • JohnRJohnson

      The debates have only served to provide a constant stream of misinformation about the state of the economy, the achievements of this President, and the alleged capabilities of each of these candidates.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  26. JohnRJohnson

    These debates have no importance. They are inconsequential. What they have done is allow this group of candidates to have free air-time so that they can repeat the same lies over and over again about this President without being challenged by a moderator who is well-versed in the facts. The only beneficial effect of these interminable debates is that they have also given the candidates a public forum in which to hurl raw sewage at each other. If only half of what these men have said about each other is true, NONE OF THEM are fit to be President of the United States. So, Wolf, I would disagree with your notion that these are important debates. There have been too many of them with too many candidates, and not enough moderators who know enough about the facts to ensure honest answers. YOU are one of those sycophantic moderators, Mr. Blitzer. You repeatedly let debate participants get away with half-truths and outright lies because you simply don't know the facts yourself well enough to enforce them. You are the ringmaster and these Republican candidates are nothing more than a bunch of circus clowns making fun of each other's size 20 shoes.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Brenda

      hear hear! well put!

      January 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Maria

      PT Barnum is turning over in his grave now with this bunch of circus clowns working the media. All that's missing are orange noses and a fright wig.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  27. Dennis

    Seriously?!?! The reason to have debates is so the debaters can become better debaters?!?!? How about the real reason CNN wants to have more and more and more debates is because they are a great revenue generators. The questions have become amatuerish and the answers predictable. We've learned nothing new from the last two debates.....maybe three. Enough!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  28. cs

    Too many debates-BORING!

    January 30, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • cs

      and UGLY

      January 30, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Maria

      A viewer has to decide whether to watch Mob Wives, the Kartrashians or the presidential debates. It's not an easy decision all three being of equal entertainment.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  29. Ruby

    I think it is disrespectful that the GOP candidates are referred to ther titles or former titles but when they refer to the President, they will not call him President Obama. Would love to know why. If his present position as president is not respected then why should thier former position be ???????

    January 30, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  30. Paul_I

    Don't take yourself too seriously Blitz. May we call you that? It worked for Cain. Anyway, the GOP primaries are all about SuperPAC money. The debates are more on the order of a reality TV show – scripted, over-dramatized, rehearsed "spontaneity."

    January 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  31. Josh

    I'm pretty sure just about everyone's fathers have told them just that. "Practice, practice, practice"

    January 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  32. Brenda

    Wolf, i have the highest respect for you as a journalist. However your last debate was a disappointment in that you seemed to stoke the fire with all the personal vendettas. They were issues that the people already knew the candidates position... so that air time would have been better served if you instead focussed on questions relating to the pressing issues. Enough already of fanny and freddy and romney's rick said, get over it and let's hear their positions on the BIG issues. Stop giving them ammunition and encouraging a free for all. I don't think this is what the american people want.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • JohnRJohnson

      How can you possibly respect this guy as a journalist? He is a sycophant. He is constantly complimenting these incredibly unsuitable candidates and, now, he is trying to sell the idea that these preposterous debates are "important". Wolf Blitzer should NOT be allowed to moderate debates! EVER! He doesn't have a thorough enough command of the facts to ensure honest answers from the participants. He's a news reader.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  33. Larry

    I too thought all of these debates were a waste of time,until I seen what lying pieces they bring out of each other. About time the truth is given to the voters.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  34. Bob

    Practice at playing a buffoon on TV is perfect for the current crop of Repug pretenders.

    Not 1 of them has told the truth.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  35. GeraldineB

    I realize that everyone would like to see their candidates in the most glowing of lights. It's very discomforting to realize that candidates for the presidency have feet of clay - can be both angry and smooth liars. But, do any of us really think that they will behave differently once in the White House? Isn't this the truth that we need disclosed? I'm somewhat opposed to the idea that practice makes perfect, being smoothly proficient in a debate is still not going to make these candidates acceptable as human beings. I rather like Ron Paul and how he's found his own voice and center, how he is willing to speak his truth even when it's not the party line.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  36. jim dollinger

    Wolf is the best moderator of the bunch. Brian Williams and anderson Cooper stick up the joint. Chris Wallace and Brett Baier are worthless.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  37. Griff

    "Well CNN/Wolfi. If you're looking for Conflict or Competition, I have them both, plus the whole internet for look for my own material. Biased positive or not against Obama, but I promise you more bias against Obama!"

    January 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  38. Alex

    I'm surprised religious republicans are against government or something that "invades" their privacy, since they believe in a god or a "dictator" that requires total submission in order to get into his paradise, but yet many republicans want to ban abortion for example and stick their noses in other peoples business. Being religious and republican doesn't make sense since they strive to live their own lifes making as much money as possible and give back as little taxes as possible to the government or society. Religion has nothing to do with politics or democracy!! We live in a secular society as our forefather intended to, but that is many peoples intention to change. Shame on you for taking advantage of our society!

    January 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  39. v_mag

    The debates didn't tell me anything I didn't already know about these turkeys. They all serve the 1%. They all want to take us back to the bad old days of George W. Bush, or even further. None of them cares a whit about the truth or American values. Their egos know no bounds. Not one of them should be in charge of a child's birthday party, much less the presidency.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  40. Truth and Nothing But The Truth

    Yes, I'm sure the Democrats and LSM just love to have endless circular firing squads, oops I mean debates. I wonder why Hillary Clinton and Obama didn't have this many debates???

    Having ONE every month should be sufficient. Having this many has turned it into a reality TV series of sorts.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  41. David

    I agree; debates are a much better gauge of a candidate than paid ads. However, they're only useful if the right questions are asked. Asking "Whose wife would make a better first lady and why?" is a waste of everyone's time and caused me to change the channel last week. If we have debates, let's do them right.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • JohnRJohnson

      They are only useful if the moderator has a sufficient knowledge of the facts to ensure that the participants cannot get away with half-truths and outright lies. Wolf Blitzer does NOT have that knowledge. He's a news reader and he should NOT be moderating presidential debates.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  42. Jim Thomas

    If they are not fighting amounst themselves they brag about how great they are.Lets hear what needs to be done to fix the problems in this country.Ron Paul is the only one talking good sense.I think knowledge comes with age.Obama is done.He and the Bushes have really screwed our USA up.Lets get rid of all the idiots now before it is to late.Jim Thomas Phx.Az.

    January 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • JohnRJohnson

      Ron Paul has been a lifelong supporter of the John Birch Society. This is an organization which called Dwight D. Eisenhower a communist sympathizer because he spoke out against Joseph McCarthy, and which was thrown out of the GOP by such lefties as William F. Buckley Jr. for being too radical. In 2009, Paul was the keynote speaker at the 50th anniversary convention of the John Birch Society, where he called it a "great and patriotic organization". Of course he would think that, given that his domestic and foreign policy positions are right out of the JBS handbook. He is unfit to be president.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |

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