Jake Tapper did not expect peace to break out at CNN's Republican primary debate on Thursday.
The moderator of the event at the University of Miami was hopeful the candidates would dial down the mayhem after last week's showdown in Detroit, where name-calling and double-entendres reached a level never seen in a modern presidential campaign. But with next Tuesday's primaries likely to eliminate one or two of the four remaining candidates for the 2016 Republican nomination, he believed the competitors would try to land more hits than they did.
"I thought they were going to be more civil, but I didn't think they were going to pass up as many opportunities as they did to differentiate themselves from each other," Tapper told The Times after the debate.
"There were plenty of disagreements on stage. They were plenty of opportunities not to just make their case but also contrast themselves from their fellow candidate that they did not take. And at this point the campaign where we are, just a few days away from this huge day with two winner-take-all states, I was a little bit surprised."
The preparation sessions held by CNN in the days before the event were geared for a more intense battle that would require the moderator to take greater control. It never came to that point.
"We were preparing for a much more feisty and more interrupting crowd," said Tapper, who is the anchor of CNN's "State of the Union" and "The Lead." "Instead we got to ask every question we wanted to ask."
Tapper said Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich all expressed gratitude to him for what they believed was a substantive debate.
"They all said thanks so much for focusing on the issues and not the attacks," he said. "So that was nice. I hoped people liked it. I know the attacks are probably more exciting for people to watch. I hope people got the real differences between the candidates."
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