September 13th, 2015
03:03 PM ET

Jake Tapper on CNN's 2016 GOP Presidential Debate: "We're just going to try to enforce the rules - a min. when you're called on, 30 secs to respond..."

Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources anchored by Brian Stelter, CNN’s State of the Union host and moderator of the upcoming CNN GOP Presidential Candidate debate, Jake Tapper discussed his debate prep strategy and rules for Wednesday night.

For more information, see http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com. A video, text highlights, and a transcript of the discussion are below.

Reliable Sources airs Sundays, 11 a.m. to noon (ET).

MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’s RELIABLE SOURCES”

VIDEO:

Jake Tapper's strategy to spur real debate

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS:

CNN’s State of the Union anchor, Jake Tapper, on the preparation for CNN’s GOP Presidential Candidate Debate: “…the challenge is going to be considerable, given the fact that you have 11 candidates on the stage for the main debate and they all want to talk and they all want to make their points.  We're just going to try to enforce the rules - a minute when you're called on, 30 seconds to respond if your name has been mentioned or you've been attacked.  And I’m just going to do the best I can.  I don't know if bringing out a whip and a lion tamer's chair would help but we're just going to try to enforce the rules and ask the questions and see what happens.”

Tapper on wanting to prompt actual debating for the upcoming GOP debate: “…what the team and I have been doing is trying to craft questions that, in most cases, pit candidates against the other, specific candidates on the stage, on issues where they disagree, whether it's policy or politics or leadership.  Let's actually have them discuss and debate. …they're going to want to talk to the camera and they’re going to get out their talking points, but I am going to attempt to get them to address each other and actually debate.”

Tapper on whether he was overwhelmed with question submissions for the debate: “It's not just candidates and campaigns and journalists.  It's your Uncle Harry and your Aunt Sally and the guy that you scooped ice cream with at Baskin Robbins when you were 15 years old.  Everybody that you've ever known is submitting questions, many of them are great questions. …A lot of them are interview questions.  A lot of them are questions that would be really good on a one-on-one but are not necessarily debate questions.  So, that's what we've been crafting.  But, look, we've been pouring over the questions that have been submitted to CNN via social media, Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever.  We just keep every day refining and refining and refining.  And we'll see if it works on Wednesday.”

Tapper on his plan if there Donald Trump or any other candidate lose control during the debate: “I don't have a plan for Donald Trump any more than I have a plan for anyone else, which is just to say - if there are interruptions or if there is debate, you know, I think in some cases, you want to sit back and let that happen and let candidates debate and let the organic process run its course.  If it gets out of control, if it gets out of hand, you want to say, excuse me, I’m sorry, we'd like to let everybody have a turn or let's try to follow the rules of the debate.  But I don't anticipate any more problems with any one candidate than any other.”

Tapper on whether he believes the GOP candidates will take issue with him during the debate: “I anticipate that somebody - and I don't know who, but I anticipate that at some point, somebody is going to take a shot at me as the straw man, as the stand-in for the media writ large. …I don't know how it's going to happen.  I don't know when it's going to happen.  I don't know - who is going to do it.  I mean, we should probably lay some bets down in Vegas as to who is going to be the one who does it.  I don't know that it will be Donald Trump any more than it's going to be Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson.  I mean, the media is a whipping boy, and it's a Republican debate.  Let's be frank.  Republicans often take issue with the media writ large.  So, it could happen.  My job is just to - if they're raising an issue that I think needs explaining, to explain quickly but generally just to move on to the next question, because, you know, look, ISIS, health care, jobs, these are topics that are much more important than me.  So, I’ll try to focus the attention where it needs to go.”

Tapper’s response to Trump’s criticism of George Pataki participating in the upcoming GOP debate: “Well, first of all, George Pataki is not on the main debate stage. …He is on the undercard debate stage with the three other candidates that did not make the cutoff for the main debate. …he will be on the debate stage, that's true, but he won't be on the stage with Donald Trump.  That’s one. Number two, he is not at zero percent in the polls.  He is at I believe 1 percent in the polls or whatever the minimum is to make the debate stage.  So, that's not accurate in terms of qualifying to get on the stage.  And three, look, in all fairness to Donald Trump, George Pataki is attacking Donald Trump and attacking his legitimacy.  George Pataki said that he’s not going to vote for Donald Trump and Donald Trump won't be the nominee.  So, in this instance, it appears more like Donald Trump is firing back, counter-punching, and he has every right to do so.”

Tapper on whether the debate is his toughest assignment in his career: “The toughest assignment of my career was writing the book I wrote about Afghanistan because that entailed, you know, two and a half years worth of work and talking to people who have suffered through some amazing, amazing tragedies, people who have lost loved ones, and people who have undergone battle and lost friends.  And that was emotionally wrenching and taxing.  This is a challenge, and I’m excited about it.  And, you know, I would be lying if I pretended that I am not a little nervous.  But it's nothing compared to that. …at the end of the day, having written that book helps me keep assignments like this in perspective.  I’m sure there are going to be plenty of nasty tweets coming my way one way or another on Wednesday night, as is the case every day of my life.  It's nothing compared to actual bullets fired by the Taliban.  So, I’m OK.” 

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: But, first, the stage is almost set for the second GOP debate.  Three days from today, 15 candidates are facing off at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.  Once again, Donald Trump will literally be center stage.  And Trump's continuing rise in the polls means this debate could be even more contentious than the first, as all of the other GOP hopefuls focus their attacks on Trump and vie for their own breakout moments.  So, how do you handle all of these fired up candidates and then a wild card like Donald Trump?  Let's ask the man who is about to do it, CNN anchor, Jake Tapper, who is at the debate site in Simi Valley, California.  Jake, thanks so much for being here this morning.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN’s STATE OF THE UNION HOST & CNN’S GOP PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE MODERATOR:  Of course.  Good to see you, Brian.

STELTER:  Have you been watching the game tape?  How do you prepare to moderate these debates?

TAPPER:  Look, the challenge is going to be considerable, given the fact that you have 11 candidates on the stage for the main debate and they all want to talk and they all want to make their points.  We're just going to try to enforce the rules - a minute when you're called on, 30 seconds to respond if your name has been mentioned or you've been attacked.  And I’m just going to do the best I can.  I don't know if bringing out a whip and a lion tamer's chair would help -

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER:  - but we're just going to try to enforce the rules and ask the questions and see what happens.

STELTER:  Is one of the goals for you on Wednesday to spur more actual debating?  What I meant by that was, one of the most interesting moments in the FOX debate last month was how Chris Christie and Rand Paul, side by side talked to each other and debated each other?

TAPPER:  You and I are of like minds on that.  I completely agree.  That was my favorite moment from the debate.  And when I saw that, I talked to our boss, Jeff Zucker, and I said that was my favorite part of the FOX debate.  There are a lot of great moments, but that was my favorite one because it was actually two guys passionately debating an important issue.

STELTER:  Right.

TAPPER:  Let's have as many of those as possible.  So, yes, what the team and I have been doing is trying to craft questions that, in most cases, pit candidates against the other, specific candidates on the stage, on issues where they disagree, whether it's policy or politics or leadership.  Let's actually have them discuss and debate.  I’m going to be trying - look, they're going to want to talk to the camera and they’re going to get out their talking points, but I am going to attempt to get them to address each other and actually debate.

STELTER:  And you'll be joined in the questioning by Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt.  How does it work? Do candidates and campaigns and operatives and journalists send you ideas for questions?  Are you - have you been overwhelmed by all these ideas?

TAPPER:  It's not just candidates and campaigns and journalists.  It's your Uncle Harry and your Aunt Sally and the guy that you scooped ice cream with at Baskin Robbins when you were 15 years old.  Everybody that you've ever known is submitting questions, many of them are great questions.

STELTER:  I bet!

TAPPER:  A lot of them are interview questions.  A lot of them are interview questions.  A lot of them are questions that would be really good on a one-on-one but are not necessarily debate questions.  So, that's what we've been crafting.  But, look, we've been pouring over the questions that have been submitted to CNN via social media, Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever.  We just keep every day refining and refining and refining.  And we'll see if it works on Wednesday.

STELTER:  I asked viewers on Twitter questions for you.  Jana asked, what's your strategy or corralling the Donald and limiting his bullying tactics?  This was the question the FOX moderators were asked last month as well.  Is there sort of a strategy or a plan in case he goes off the reservation so to speak?

TAPPER:  I don't have a plan for Donald Trump any more than I have a plan for anyone else, which is just to say, if somebody - if there are interruptions or if there is debate, you know, I think in some cases, you want to sit back and let that happen and let candidates debate and let the organic process run its course.  If it gets out of control, if it gets out of hand, you want to say, excuse me, I’m sorry, we'd like to let everybody have a turn or let's try to follow the rules of the debate.  But I don't anticipate any more problems with any one candidate than any other.

STELTER:  You don't think that Trump will try to make you part of the story the way he tried to make Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace part of the story last month?

TAPPER:  I don’t think that - look, I anticipate that somebody - and I don't know who, but I anticipate that at some point, somebody is going to take a shot at me as the straw man, as the stand-in for the media writ large.

STELTER:  Right.

TAPPER:  I don't know how it's going to happen.  I don't know when it's going to happen.  I don't know who it's to do - who is going to do it.  I mean, we should probably lay some bets down in Vegas as to who is going to be the one who does it.  I don't know that it will be Donald Trump any more than it's going to be Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson.  I mean, the media is a whipping boy, and it's a Republican debate.  Let's be frank.  Republicans often take issue with the media writ large.  So, it could happen.  My job is just to, if there - if they're raising an issue that I think needs explaining, to explain quickly but generally just to move on to the next question, because, you know, look, ISIS, health care, jobs, these are topics that are much more important than me.  So, I’ll try to focus the attention where it needs to go.

STELTER:  You probably saw this morning, actually you may not have.  It was during your program, STATE OF THE UNION, Trump tweeted out, "Why is someone like George Pataki, who did a terrible job as governor of New York and registers zero in the polls allowed on the debate stage?" Now, I know you didn't make up the rules, didn't make up the criteria.  What do you make of Trump going after other candidates like this, he’s challenging their legitimacy?  But I think our argument would be - the more candidates, the better, as many as possible, because then you hear more voices.

TAPPER:  Well, first of all, George Pataki is not on the main debate stage.

STELTER:  Right.

TAPPER:  He is on the undercard debate stage with the three other candidates that did not make the cutoff for the main debate.  So, that's - he will be on the debate stage, that's true, but he won't be on the stage with Donald Trump.  That’s one. Number two, he is not at zero percent in the polls.  He is at I believe 1 percent in the polls or whatever the minimum is to make the debate stage.  So, that's not accurate in terms of qualifying to get on the stage.  And three, look, in all fairness to Donald Trump, George Pataki is attacking Donald Trump and attacking his legitimacy.  George Pataki said that he’s not going to vote for Donald Trump and Donald Trump won't be the nominee.  So, in this instance, it appears more like Donald Trump is firing back, counter-punching, and he has every right to do so.

STELTER:  He also brought up the issue with Rand Paul, who will be on the main stage.  He said Rand Paul shouldn't be allowed to participate either.  And so, maybe that creates more opportunities for that debating, that actual debating we were talking about, or maybe the two men will actually talk to each other on the stage.

TAPPER:  Well, look, there are issues where Donald Trump and Rand Paul disagree.  There are issues where many candidates disagree.  We're not just trying to set up ways for Donald Trump to disagree with every candidate on the stage.  We have - we are crafting questions that will pit many different candidates against one another.  I hope that they will be talking about leadership and policy and politics and not who deserves to be on the stage according to polling.  I don't think that voters will find that all that compelling.

STELTER:  Right.

TAPPER:  I do think that they will be voting on issues of leadership and policy differences, and that's what we want to get out.

STELTER:  I know you're getting back to preparation.  But before you go - is this the toughest assignment of your career, especially knowing how big the audience is going to be?

TAPPER:  The toughest assignment of my career was writing the book I wrote about Afghanistan because that entailed, you know, two and a half years worth of work and talking to people who have suffered through some amazing, amazing tragedies, people who have lost loved ones, and people who have undergone battle and lost friends.  And that was emotionally wrenching and taxing.  This is a challenge, and I’m excited about it.  And, you know, I would be lying if I pretended that I am not a little nervous.  But it's nothing compared to that.

And look - I mean, at the end of the day, having written that book helps me keep assignments like this in perspective.  I’m sure there are going to be plenty of nasty tweets coming my way one way or another on Wednesday night, as is the case every day of my life.  It's nothing compared to actual bullets fired by the Taliban.  So, I’m OK.

STELTER:  Jake Tapper, just a little nervous this morning.  Thank you so much for joining us here.

TAPPER:  Teeny bit. Thanks.

###END INTERVIEW###

 


Topics: Brian Stelter • CNN • Reliable Sources
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