Not the first tag-team debate, nor the worst

By Jack Cashill

A friend texted me right after Tuesday’s debate, “Chris Wallace was way too noticeable tonight.” I should add that my friend Greg is blind. If even the blind could see how deep in Biden’s corner was Wallace, the alleged ref made his role as Biden’s tag-team partner much too obvious.

If, however, an award were given to the most obvious tag-team partner in a presidential debate, that award would have to go to Candy Crowley, then with CNN.

Crowley earned the prize “moderating” the second of the three presidential debates in 2012 between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

When an audience member asked what each candidate would do to keep “assault weapons” away from criminals, Obama gave a banal, evasive answer straight out of the Democratic playbook.

Romney, by contrast, ripped his answer right from the news, and it had everything to do with putting “assault weapons” in criminal hands. He introduced the subject of Fast and Furious.

“I’d like to understand who it was that did this,” said Romney, “what the idea was behind it, why it led to the violence – thousands of guns going to Mexican drug lords.”

Obama then looked pleadingly to his partner. “Candy!” he said.

“Governor, Governor,” Crowley interjected, “if I could, the question was about these assault weapons that once were banned and are no longer banned.”

In fact, the questioner never mentioned a ban. Romney’s answer was totally on point. Hoping to score points for the home team, Crowley shoved the whole subject of Fast and Furious out of the ring and hit Romney over the head with a chair.

“Now, I know that you signed an assault weapons ban when you were in Massachusetts,” Crowley continued. “Obviously with this question, you no longer do support that. Why is that? Given the kind of violence that we see sometimes with these mass killings, why is it that you’ve changed your mind?”

Obama took it all in stride. He had spent the first four years with the referee in his corner. Had Crowley played fair on a more critical question, namely Benghazi, he would not have had four more.

When an audience member asked, “Who denied enhanced security and why?” Obama gave a long-winded answer on how he was the very model of a modern major president.

For his part, Romney criticized Obama for his squirrelly response to the attack and chastised him for flying to Las Vegas the next day for a fundraiser.

Here, Crowley intervened once again. Following Romney’s hard-hitting response, Crowley lobbed a softball to Obama, who was then walking toward her, “Does the buck stop with the secretary of state?”

Obama had his well-rehearsed answer at the ready. He delivered it flawlessly. “Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job, but she works for me,” he said. “I’m the president, and I’m always responsible.”

Obama then boldly rewrote the history of Sept. 12, 2012: “The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we were going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror, and I also said we are going to hunt down those who committed this crime.”

Without a hiccup, Obama expressed seeming outrage at any insinuation that his team would “play politics or mislead when we have lost four of our own.”

As half of America knew, Obama and his team had been playing politics for the five weeks before the debate. In his Rose Garden speech of Sept. 12, Obama blamed the notorious anti-Muslim video.

“Since our founding,” said Obama, “the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”

It was not until five minutes into the six-minute speech that Obama added, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”

As the plural “acts” suggest, Obama was speaking generically, and this was his only mention of “terror” in any form. There was no mention of “hunting” anyone.

Looking quizzically at Obama, Romney asked, “You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you are saying?”

Obama answered uncomfortably, “Please proceed. Please proceed, Governor.” Romney did, saying to Crowley he just wanted to get Obama’s response on record.

In the background Obama could be heard saying, “Get the transcript.” The camera then showed Crowley waving a piece of paper that could easily have been mistaken for the transcript. Said Crowley to Romney, “He did in fact, sir, call, so let me call it an act of terror.”

“Can you say that a little louder, Candy,” said Obama, now moving confidently into Romney’s space.

“He did call it an act of terror,” repeated Crowley.

Caught off guard, a stuttering Romney cited Ambassador Rice’s appearance on five Sunday talk shows blaming the video, but by now Crowley and Obama were both talking over him.

Concluded Crowley, “I want to move you on and people can go to the transcripts.” The election may well have been lost at that very moment.

In re-watching this sequence, and seeing how smoothly Obama handled it, I am convinced he knew the “Hillary” question was coming and maybe knew more than that.

In 2012, I would not have suggested a planned tag-teaming, but after then CNN contributor Donna Brazile was busted in 2016 for providing the Clinton campaign with actual debate questions, I have had to reconsider. Like Wallace, Brazile is now with Fox News. Hmm.

In 2012, Romney resigned himself to his treachery like a gentleman. In 2020, Trump fought like a man. That is why Trump is president, and Romney never will be.

Jack Cashill’s new book, “Unmasking Obama: The Fight to Tell the True Story of a Failed Presidency,” is widely available. See

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