When will Republicans ever learn? Every four years, they agree to have their presidential debates “moderated” by liberal Democrats masquerading as journalists. The second of the three 2012 match-ups fell solidly into that category.

At a crucial juncture in Tuesday night’s so-called town hall style debate, CNN partisan Candy Crowley threw Barack Obama the lifeline he so desperately needed to save him from the only question of the evening concerning his near-criminal handling of the Benghazi, Libya, affair that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. After listening to the incessantly inane questions put forth by supposedly undecided voters — questions selected beforehand by Crowley herself — we finally got a direct question about the Libyan fiasco.

That direct question was this: “The State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security, and why?”

Obama started his two minutes of obfuscation by telling us how proud he is of all our diplomats around the world, what “an incredible job they do in a very dangerous situation,” how they represent him because he appoints them, and how he intended to “investigate” this whole incident until those responsible are “brought to justice” blah blah blah. It was an embarrassing display of bloviating, wherein he never answered the question. In fact, his answer ended with him blaming Romney for turning the whole thing into a political issue by criticizing the president’s actions — or lack of them.

Romney’s response was weak, but he did manage to point out that it was a terrorist attack, not a “spontaneous demonstration,” and that, immediately afterward, Obama had jetted off to a campaign fundraiser in Las Vegas. Filled with faux-indignity, Obama bristled that for Romney to dare to suggest that he or any of his team would use such a grave situation for political purposes was “offensive.”

He also stated that he had called the attack “an act of terror” the day after it happened.

At this point, it was obvious that Obama and Crowley were on the same page on this issue. When Romney challenged Obama’s statement that he had characterized Benghazi as an act of terror in his brief Sept. 12 Rose Garden news conference, the president said, “Get the transcript.” And low and behold, Candy Crowley just happened to have one, which she used to back up Obama’s lie. Delighted, Obama piped up, “Could you say that a little louder, Candy?”

(Later, on her poorly rated network, CNN, when few people were watching, Crowley corrected herself by admitting that the generic reference the president had made at his news conference did not pertain to the Libyan attack at all. Of course, by then she had accomplished her mission of bailing Obama out of a very uncomfortable situation.)

Out of all the statements that have been made over the past month on this issue, ask yourself why Candy Crowley, who had personally chosen the audience questions in advance, would be armed with that particular transcript, if not for the purpose of preparing to provide Obama with a lifeline. How would she have known that this was the excuse the president would use?

Obama was indeed more aggressive in this debate than he was in Denver two weeks ago, when he appeared to barely have a pulse. But, as it so often does, his aggression took the form of petulance and indignation from a petty little man who does not like to be challenged, and who is accustomed to being surrounded by sycophants — both on his staff and in most of the media.

Focus groups across the political spectrum afterward confirmed that Romney clearly had the better answers on the economy and taxes, despite Obama’s class warfare protestations to the contrary. But on the issue that would have been the most damaging to this president — the attempted cover-up involving the murder of a diplomat and three other Americans in a terrorist attack his administration tried for two weeks to sell as a spontaneous demonstration — Obama slithered away from the question with the help of moderator Candy Crowley.

That’s what happens when you let cheerleaders referee the game. Someday maybe Republicans will learn.

Doug Patton is a Cagle Cartoons syndicated columnist. Email him at dpatton@cagle.com