There’s no consensus on who won the latest Republican debate, but there was no question that CNBC was the big loser.
The Republican debate on CNBC was supposed to be about the economy; instead it became a debate about media bias as candidates fought moderators over dishonest questions and cynical attacks.
Instead of discussing the economic worries of a nation impoverished by two terms of the Obama Economy, Republican candidates struggled to talk about the concerns of working Americans while CNBC moderators dug up old discredited attacks from the CNN debate and fired gotcha questions at them.
Most observers would have said that there wasn’t much that could bring the Republican field together, but media bias did it. Candidate after candidate struck back at the moderators to thunderous applause from the audience. Instead of a debate between the candidates, the CNBC debate quickly became a pitched battle between the Republican contenders and the outnumbered Democratic moderators.
And by the end of the debate, CNBC moderators Becky Quick, John Harwood, and Carl Quintanilla had been outmaneuvered, beaten and humiliated by the Republican candidates in every round.
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were the first to make media bias into the issue. Rubio responded to the attacks on him for missing votes by pointing out that John Kerry had missed 60 percent of his votes when running for office with no objection from the media.
But it was Ted Cruz who really connected by blasting Carl Quintanilla and the rest of the CNBC panel for their attacks.
“The questions that were asked in this debate illustrate why Americans don't trust the media,” Senator Cruz said, to thunderous applause from the audience. “To Trump, are you a comic book villain, Ben Carson, can you do math,” he said, mimicking the ridiculous questions that had been put by the panel.
Cruz contrasted that with the Democratic debate asking the candidates, “Which of you is more handsome and wise?”
“Nobody believes a democratic moderator has any intention of voting in a Republican primary,” he added.
And it was all downhill for the moderators from there. Despite attempts to punish Ted Cruz on time, he ended up getting the time to answer his question anyway. The balance of power had shifted.
Before the debate was over, Christie would ridicule the moderators for talking about fantasy football, Rand Paul would slam accusations of “Know-Nothingism,” Rubio would successfully fact-check a discredited attack from CNBC’s John Harwood, that even Harwood had originally admitted was wrong, and Fiorina would gracefully parry Becky Quick’s gotcha question about Tom Perkins.
“Those people who are trying to divide us, are our enemies,” Ben Carson said, and that became the theme for the night.
“This debate needs to be about the Americans struggling to provide for their families,” Marco Rubio had insisted. And if the media wasn’t willing to talk about struggling Americans, the candidates would challenge the media’s agenda instead.
“John do you want me to answer or do you want to answer? Even in New Jersey, what you're doing would be considered rude,” Christie berated a sniveling Harwood.
In one of the more famous lines of the night, Rubio called out the mainstream media as “The ultimate Super PAC.” Pivoting to Benghazi, he said that the reason most Americans didn’t know that this was the week that Hillary had been exposed for lying about the attack was that “Hillary has her Super PAC, the mainstream media, helping her out.”
Each of the CNBC moderators had their own plan of attack on debate night. John Harwood asked ridiculously insulting and biased questions with the grave mien of a confused undertaker. Becky Quick tried to play chess, asking mild questions that set up her target for a follow-up gotcha attack.
Carl Quintanilla tried a little of both, but never recovered from Ted Cruz’s populist beating. John Harwood was fact-checked hard by multiple candidates on his lies. Becky Quick’s complicated traps never seemed to go off the way she expected them to as the candidates just brushed her off.
The moderators lost control of the debate as the audience lustily booed their worst questions like Harwood’s Trump challenge to Huckabee and Quintanilla’s ugly attempt at hurling an accusation of bad judgment at Ben Carson even after the CNBC hack had clearly lost the exchange to the mild-mannered neurosurgeon.
The audience wanted a united field and for the first time, in the face of a ridiculously hostile panel of moderators, they got it as candidates supported each other and cheered each other on.
With the exception of John Kasich, they had finally found a common leftist foe to fight.
With the audience on their side, not to mention apparently the crew, Republican candidates casually talked over moderators. Becky Quick’s revealing response to Rand Paul about which candidates get time, “It was at the moderator’s discretion,” destroyed the last shreds of CNBC moderator credibility.
And out of the ashes of the debate, freed from the restrictive leading questions of the moderators, they began to actually talk about the economic issues that mattered. Despite the best efforts of CNBC, this became a debate about the economy, about tax policy, government spending and social security.
Most of the candidates refrained from taking cheap shots at each other. Instead they respectfully differed and quoted numbers and talked details as the debate became what it was meant to be.
Ted Cruz talked about the effect of loose money on the 40 percent rise in hamburger prices. Marco Rubio discussed cracking down on H-1B visa abuses. Christie called out a “political justice department” that failed to prosecute improprieties at companies tied to Obama.
Ben Carson told the audience that class warfare wouldn’t work. “You can take everything from rich people and it wouldn't even make a dent.”
Ted Cruz pointed out that under Obama, “3.7 million working women have fallen into poverty.” Carly Fiorina reminded us that 90 percent of the jobs lost under Obama's first term belonged to women.
Speaking of government spending, Mike Huckabee asked whether you would trust a 400lb man who said, “I'm going to go on a diet, but I'm going to eat a sack of Krispy Kremes first.” Christie said of Hillary, “If someone has already stolen from you, would you trust him with more money?”
Ted Cruz blasted the budget deal as the perfect example of how Washington, D.C. is broken. “The Republican leadership joined with every Democrat to add to our debt.”
Carly Fiorina explained to the audience that companies consolidate to become big and powerful to use a big and powerful government to their advantage. She pointed out that there were a handful of huge banks and few little banks because of the system of financial regulation advocated by Democrats.
And so, in between the CNBC moderators interrupting the candidates and each other to throw in questions about gun control and global warming, old discredited attacks about Trump and Rubio’s finances, commercials desperately trying to make the likes of Chuck Todd seem cool, and weather updates from Milan and Minsk, the candidates were able to make their case for America.
Ted Cruz said that the Democratic debate was between the “Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.” By contrast, the Republican debate evolved into an actual discussion of economics and practical policies. There were setbacks and gaffes, and not every candidate got with the program, but the majority of the men and women on that stage talked about the real issues facing working Americans.
They did it despite the obstructionism of the media. They won the debate in a real way, not against each other, but against the left, its media operation and its narrative. They pushed back against it and they won. And perhaps, they will have all learned a valuable lesson about the kind of victories that are truly worth winning if they are to change this country.