The third Republican debate will be known, not for candidates attacking each other, but for the candidates attacking the moderators and the media itself. The first two debates were replete with sound bites of the candidates taking shots at each other. Not this time. With only a few exceptions, the candidates complained about the questions asked by the moderators from CNBC. They contend that the Democrats did not have to answer tough questions in last week’s debate. CNBC did not moderate the Democratic debate, however.
Senator Marco Rubio, trailing in the polls, began the media bashing frenzy saying “The Democrats have the ultimate super PAC, it is called the mainstream media.” To wild applause, Rubio said the media gave preferential treatment to Hillary Clinton during last week’s Benghazi hearings. Rubio’s response was to a question about his personal finances, which he never answered.
Not to be outdone, Senator Ted Cruz pounced. “You look at the questions; Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, can you insult those two people over here. Marco Rubio, will you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?” Cruz was almost drowned out by shouts of approval from the hand-picked Republican audience at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
In the spin room afterwards, the candidate continued to blast the moderators as did Republican spin doctors. RNC chairman Reince Priebus blasted CNBC for “gotcha” questions adding the media has created a hostile environment for Republicans. This is not new. Republican primary debates are known for media bashing. Since the days of Richard Nixon, who resigned to avoid impeachment, media-bashing is sure crowd pleaser for Republican audiences. It is a perennial fixture in GOP primary debates.
One could argue that the candidates are creating the hostile environment themselves by blasting immigrants, the LGBT community, Muslims, Latinos, Asians, and women’s health care. Thus far the Republican presidential race has been dominated by Donald Trump blasting one of his Republican opponents after another on Twitter. That is followed by the attacked candidate returning fire by blasting Trump. Missing altogether, thus far, in the GOP primary campaign is any substantive discussion of the differences between the candidates on the issues.
Republicans had an opportunity in the debate to lay out details of their plans. They deflected those opportunities by firing on the moderators rather than responding to the questions. Granted, the candidates are used to veteran debate moderators who cover politics as opposed to business commentators and reporters on CNBC. Clearly, CNBC was interested in exposing weaknesses, flaws, and inconsistencies in the candidates’ own proposed policies and tax plans.
The candidates would have preferred questions like “Tell us about your tax plan in 60 seconds.” That would have given the candidate 60 seconds or more to recite fluff about how great they are and how great their plan is, without any details on said plan. Instead, the moderators pointed out flaws and asked tough questions aimed at getting facts on the table to inform the voters. Politicians hate that.
In addition to Rubio and Cruz, Donald Trump also took jabs at the media. He was upset over a question asking him to respond to a statement he made about Facebook’s owner Mark Zuckerberg’s being Rubio’s private Senator. Trump denied saying it. Later, it was pointed out by the moderators that that quote is on Trump’s own website. Trump also tried to take credit for the debate being limited to two hours saying that he is such a strong negotiator and he forced CNBC to cut the debate from “three and a half hours to two hours so we can get the hell out of here.” CNBC pointed out that the debate always going to be two hours.
Most Republican insiders and pundits say that Rubio and Cruz won the debate hands down. There is agreement that Bush bombed. Pundits are predicting a shake-up in the GOP field. Pundits have been wrong this entire campaign. Presently, Dr. Ben Carson is the new front runner leading Trump by a hair. Random interviews of debate attendees indicated that Carson is still the guy. Trump did well on social media during the debate.
Unlike the first two debates where Trump was given the most time on the microphone, he received very little time in Boulder. Will the face-time that the other candidates received help propel them in the polls? Did Carson do no harm? Polls are being conducted right now. Stay tuned.