At the end of Wednesday evening’s CNBC debate, Brent Bozell, President of the Media Research Center tweeted that the CNBC Debate was an “Encyclopedic Example of Liberal Media Bias” Indeed it was, from the moment the Republican candidates walked on stage for the CNBC debate Wednesday evening, it was clear the distain the moderators and the network had for each one of them. But the CNBC team wasn’t the only big loser in the debate there was another —Jeb. The only thing that possibly saved Jeb Bush’s campaign from his awful debate performance was that the viewership was probably low because of the World Series.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the debate shook things up a bit, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were the huge winners, Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie also had a great night but to a lesser extent than the first two. Frontrunners Trump and Carson did not hurt themselves, even though at one point the good doctor seemed not to know his own tax plan.
CNBC had set the debate to begin at 8 p.m. But instead of introducing the ten candidates as they filed onto the platform, the CNBC anchors continued babbling about politics in a manner that demonstrated a lack of understanding of the issues. As CNBC team continued to ramble the candidate were on the stage waiting as if they were extras in a movie waiting for their chance to do a crowd scene while the stars were finishing their lines.
Sadly for those looking for a substantive debate, the CNBC moderators Becky Quick, Carl Quintanilla, and John Harwood, went downhill from their opening shunning of the candidates. It wasn’t just that the moderators asked snotty questions filled with personal attacks against the candidates, but they were unprepared asking questions without the backup to prove the attacks drilled into the queries.
Initially the candidates fell for the CNBC trick by attacking each other but the tide began to turn when Ted Cruz had the moment of the night. Asked a question (that he didn’t want to answer) by Carl Quintanilla about the debt limit agreement that was to be voted on by the senate the next day, Cruz attacked the moderators. The brilliance of Cruz’s attack was that he used specifics and spoke in a way that united all ten candidates (and most of the audience) against the moderators.
Quintanilla: Senator Cruz. Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear of — another Washington-created crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?
Cruz: You know, let me say something at the outset. The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions — “Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?” “Ben Carson, can you do math?” “John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?” “Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?” “Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?” How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?
Cruz outburst seemed legitimate, unscripted, and right on. Heck the very first question asked in the debate sounded like an attack, it came from John Harwood who throughout the night seemed to be the most arrogant of the CNBC crew:
This series of debates is essentially a job interview with the American people. And in any job interview, you know this: you get asked, “what’s your biggest weakness?” So in 30 seconds, without telling us that you try too hard or that you’re a perfectionist what is your biggest weakness and what are you doing to address it? We’ll go left to right.
Yes its true what is your biggest weakness is a common interview question (by a lazy interviewer). What job candidate is going to answer “I embezzle money from the companies I work for,” or “I like to have sex with little children.” Come on! Its an idiotic question and a waste of time! I always answered that my weakness was an inability to grow hair.
This debate was a make or break night for Jeb Bush, he was broken. Jeb started off seemingly with his swagger in gear, but when he attacked Marco Rubio the younger Floridian’s response made Bush’s mojo run away and hide in a corner.
Quintanilla asked Rubio about the Sun-Sentinel editorial published earlier that day calling for Rubio to resign because he missed so many senate votes because he was out campaigning. Rubio explained that he missed fewer votes than other candidates many of whom the Sun-Sentinel endorsed. That’s when Jeb Bush made the mistake that put a nail in his campaign coffin; he asked to respond to Rubio:
Bush: Could I — could I bring something up here, because I’m a constituent of the senator and I helped him and I expected that he would do constituent service, which means that he shows up to work. He got endorsed by the Sun-Sentinel because he was the most talented guy in the field. He’s a gifted politician. But Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work. I mean, literally, the Senate — what is it, like a French work week? You get, like, three days where you have to show up? You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job. There are a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck in Florida as well, they’re looking for a senator that will fight for them each and every day.
Rubio: Well, it’s interesting. Over the last few weeks, I’ve listened to Jeb as he walked around the country and said that you’re modeling your campaign after John McCain, that you’re going to launch a furious comeback the way he did, by fighting hard in New Hampshire and places like that, carrying your own bag at the airport. You know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that furious comeback that you’re now modeling after?
No Jeb, I don’t remember — well, let me tell you. I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record. The only reason why you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you. I’m not — my campaign is going to be about the future of America, it’s not going to be about attacking anyone else on this stage. I will continue to have tremendous admiration and respect for Governor Bush. I’m not running against Governor Bush, I’m not running against anyone on this stage. I’m running for president because there is no way we can elect Hillary Clinton to continue the policies of Barack Obama.
When pundits write their post mortems about the 2016 campaign, that particular exchange will be known as the moment Bush’s campaign died. Bush seemed demoralized the rest of the night, and while he may stay in the race for a while it’s only because he is too demoralized to know he should fall over. Look for Bush to make a major move firing a senior member of his team.
John Kasich didn’t do himself any favors last night either. He tried to play the “big boy” in the room attacking the Carson and Trump economic plans as fantasy but it didn’t work, not because of what he said but because how he said it. Kasich seemed to be channeling Bernie Sanders, screaming each and every answer.
Rand Paul didn’t get a big chance to talk and didn’t really stand out when he did.
Trump dodged a bullet when Becky Quick asked him about his criticism of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook about immigration. When Trump said he never criticized Zuckerberg:
Quick: Where did I read this and come up with this that you were…
Trump: Probably, I don’t know — you people write the stuff. I don’t know where you…
In truth Trump did say that, it was on his website something that Quick reminded him about a half-hour later, but because Quick didn’t have her backup sourcing her questions, her correction later in the debate went unnoticed.
Perhaps Trump deserved to get away with that answer; arguably CNBC’s Trump questions were the worst. Harwood asked him if his was “a comic book version of a presidential campaign?” Harwood also asked Trump “I talked to economic advisers who have served presidents of both parties. They said that you have as chance of cutting taxes that much without increasing the deficit as you would of flying away from that podium by flapping your arms.” At one point Harwood practically begged Mike Huckabee to attack Trump by asking him, “The leading Republican candidate, when you look at the average of national polls right now, is Donald Trump. When you look at him, do you see someone with the moral authority to unite the country?” Huckabee refused to attack Trump and instead hit at Hillary Clinton, “Let me tell you, Donald Trump would be a president every day of the week and twice on Sunday, rather than Hillary.”
Overall Trump had a good night but was not as dominating as earlier debates because he saw few attacks from the other candidates for him to answer with counter-punches.
The other leader, Ben Carson was well…Ben Carson. He was the kind soft-spoken Doctor whose style (rather than substance) made him popular. His best moment was when he was asked about his positions on homosexuality and he explained that despite the liberal propaganda, being anti-gay marriage does not mean he hates gay people.
Quintanilla: Dr. Carson, we know you as a physician, but we wanted to ask you about your involvement on some corporate boards, including Costco’s. Last year, a marketing study called the warehouse retailer the number one gay-friendly brand in America, partly because of its domestic partner benefits. Why would you serve on a company whose policies seem to run counter to your views on homosexuality?
Carson: Well, obviously, you don’t understand my views on homosexuality. I believe that our Constitution protects everybody, regardless of their sexual orientation or any other aspect. I also believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. And there is no reason that you can’t be perfectly fair to the gay community. They shouldn’t automatically assume that because you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman that you are a homophobe. And this is one of the myths that the left perpetrates on our society, and this is how they frighten people and get people to shut up. You know, that’s what the PC culture is all about, and it’s destroying this nation. The fact of the matter is we the American people are not each other’s enemies, it’s those people who are trying to divide us who are the enemies. And we need to make that very clear to everybody.
Chris Christie had his best night. His style of turning to the camera and addressing each answer to the TV audience was unique among the candidates and very effective. His best moment however, was near the end of the night after Jeb Bush answered a Quintanilla question about fantasy football and the NJ Governor was indignant as he Quintanilla’s head off.
Christie: Carl, are we really talking about getting government involved in fantasy football? We have — wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop? How about this? How about we get the government to do what they’re supposed to be doing, secure our borders, protect our people, and support American values and American families. Enough on fantasy football. Let people play, who cares?
A close second best moment for Christie was when Harwood kept interrupting an answer he was giving,
John, do you want me to answer or do you want to answer? Because, I’ve got to tell you the truth, even in New Jersey what you’re doing is called rude. So…
Marco Rubio had the most great moments of the night. When Donald Trump spoke of SuperPACs used by the other candidates Rubio answered with an great attack on the Hillary Clinton and the Media:
Rubio: I know the Democrats have the ultimate SuperPAC. It’s called the mainstream media who every single day…and I’ll tell you why. Last week, Hillary Clinton went before a committee. She admitted she had sent e-mails to her family saying, “Hey, this attack at Benghazi was caused by Al Qaida-like elements.” She spent over a week telling the families of those victims and the American people that it was because of a video. And yet the mainstream media is going around saying it was the greatest week in Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It was the week she got exposed as a liar. It was the week that she got exposed as a liar… But she has her super PAC helping her out, the American mainstream media.
And when John Harwood incorrectly attacked Rubio’s tax plan, Rubio reminded the CNBC moderator that he had made the same mistake once before and apologized for being wrong. Harwood denied Rubio’s claim but here’s the proof:
Harwood’s worst moment was near the end of the debate, when Donald Trump bragged talking to Ben Carson and going in united to get CNBC to cut the debate from three hours to two. Harwood out and out lied saying the debate was always supposed to be two hours. Perhaps he didn’t read any newspapers, or his management didn’t tell him but Trump was 100% correct.
As for Carl Fiorina her best moment was she addressed a Becky Quick question about women she proved once again why the party needs her as a spokesperson for their policies about women
Fiorina: Becky, it is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about being the first woman President, when every single policy she espouses, and every single policy of President Obama has been demonstrably bad for women. 92 percent — 92 percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women. Senator Cruz is precisely right. Three million women have fallen into poverty under this administration. The number of women —living in extreme poverty is the highest level on record. I am a conservative because I know our values, our principles and our policies —work better to lift everyone up, men and women.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of last night happened after the debate. Reince Priebus the chair of the National Republican Committee went into the “spin room” and bashed CNBC.
“I think it was one gotcha question, one personal low blow after the other. It’s almost like they tried to design a Rubik’s cube for every question. I’m proud of our candidates for pretty much sticking together. I’m very disappointed in the moderators and I’m very disappointed in CNBC.”
Priebus immediately left the spin room without taking questions.
There have been other lousy performances by debate moderators, although in my experience none worse than CNBC’s last night, but never in my experience as a political geek has any party chairman walked into a spin room just to trash the debate hosts and stormed out. Parties are built bottom up and by necessity the chairman are by necessity the ultimate diplomats as they have to keep everyone happy, their negative comments are usually reserved solely for the other party. But Priebus’ scolding was entirely appropriate.
The next debate will be on Fox Business network in two weeks. Any polls between now and then will probably show big increases for Rubio and Cruz, a smaller one for Christie, a major drop for Bush and minor ones for Paul, Kasich and possibly Huckabee. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Trump dropped a few points, not because of anything he did but because the success of others peeling off some of his supporters.
This debate was so awful, I wouldn’t be surprised if CNBC’s overall viewership falls not to recover for a very long time. In fact thinking what I would write about the debate this morning one thing that popping into my head was that this scene from the movie Billy Madison could very well be used to describe the CNBC questioners.
Allow me to suggest that you read other opinions to get a full picture of the debate. For example my Liberty Alliance colleague Joe Newby wrote on his site, Conservative Firing Line, “Tonight’s Debate…Ted Cruz Won Going Away” and if you go there to read his post, make sure you go and vote on the debate poll he put up on his site. Another LA colleague Howard Portnoy also wrote a good analysis on his blog Liberty Unyielding, “The loser of last night’s GOP presidential debate? The envelope, please.” and Steve “Deace grades the debate,” on his site, SteveDeace.com.
I will be a guest on today’s Ed Morrissey show and we will be discussing his take on the debate “Priebus: Say, there were a lot of gotcha questions last night, huh?” as well as mine.