CNN’s marathon afternoon and evening of debate coverage kicked off just after 3 p.m. on Wednesday with five so-called “second tier” Republican presidential candidates facing off before the main event.
George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum took the stage.
“Let’s stop treating Donald Trump like a fellow Republican,” Jindal said at the start, reflecting his effort to take on the front running, calling him a “narcissist who only believes in himself.”
Moderator Jake Tapper had asked Jindal whether his attacks on Trump violated Ronald Reagan’s “11th commandment” not to attack fellow Republicans.
“He’s not going to be the nominee,” Pataki said, calling him “unfit” to be president or the Republican nominee.
Santorum, however, said, “I don’t think it helps when Republicans attack fellow Republicans personally.”
The debate from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley drew hundreds of members of the media, most of them having to settle not for access to the Air Force One pavilion, where the debates were being held, but across a street in library grounds in a press tent and adjacent “spin room,” where at least some of the candidates were expected afterward.
CNN’s buildup to the debate was akin to that of a Super Bowl, with hours of coverage devoted to strategies of candidates and how they would try to take on Trump. His unlikely candidacy has proven to be a big ratings getter for CNN and other news networks, to the point where CNN even covered his arrival on library grounds as he walked to one of his StarWaggon trailer, set up for each of the candidates.
The candidate dinged the network before the debate started. “Can you believe @CNN is ‘milking’ it for almost 3 hours? Too long, too many people on stage!”
Of course, he hasn’t exactly one to shy away from attention.
Still to be seen is whether the network’s coverage will match the record 24 million viewers who tuned into Fox News’ coverage of the Republican debate in Cleveland last month.
The sheer media presence reflected the uptick in ratings that networks have seen in their coverage of Trump. In addition to the usual collection of political media were local Los Angeles reporters, international correspondents and even “Entertainment Tonight” and “The Insider,” ensconced in a corner of the “spin room.”
At the entrance to the library, a few dozen protesters gathered, some shouting “shame on you!” and holding effigies of Trump and other candidates. They largely were protesting Trump’s views on immigration.