ONLINE EXCLUSIVE STORY BY JOHN WINGERT
The third Republican debate took place this past Wednesday and with it the circus came to Boulder, Colorado. The slapstick style which has characterized the Republican debates shifted focus in the most recent onslaught to the CNBC moderators.
From the outset, the participants still showed a lack of reluctance to attack each other. Ohio governor, John Kasich, was willing to call plans brought forward by Donald Trump and Ben Carson “fantasies.”
In addition, Rubio and Bush showed their aggressive sides. When former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, accused Florida senator, Marco Rubio, of working a “French work week” due to his absenteeism in the Senate. The French work week (which is about 39.6 hours on average) comment was quickly rebuffed by Marco Rubio, who said that Jeb Bush had compared himself to John McCain, a candidate with similar levels of Senate absenteeism when he ran for president. Rubio then added that the attack had obviously been fed to him by an advisor backstage and was founded fundamentally in hypocrisy.
This exchange continued the pattern of Jeb Bush’s declining relevance, despite previous financial advantage, and Marco Rubio’s steady rise especially for establishment-oriented voters in the Republican primary and caucus process. Rubio, a charismatic, more confident politician, who has not been subject to the same barrage of gaffes, poised himself well against Bush and exemplified why voters are heading toward him instead of Bush’s sinking ship. The Bush ship has been making much less money in donations, laying off staff, and losing essential campaign managers.
It did not help that Bush also floundered on a question asked in the 2012 debate about accepting $1 in tax hikes for every $10 in cut spending. He had said at the time that he would have accepted that deal, but he refused to be pinned down on the issue during the CNBC debate. Instead, he only confirmed that he disliked Democrats since he could not find any that would cut spending by that much. Any such Democrat, would get a “warm kiss” from him, he said.
The entire awkward exchange seems unlikely to help him.
However, the real fireworks took place between candidates and the moderators. Ted Cruz accused them of bias and said that the media as a whole was biased toward conservatives. He also added that Democratic candidates had had it easy at their debate in Las Vegas.
It was moments like this and Rubio’s that gave them some of the bet post-debate reviews. Although the most recent post-debate poll from NBC shows that Trump and Carson are both tied at 26%, well ahead of other candidates, it shows that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have come in right behind them and were also polled to have done the best in the debate of all the candidates likely Republican primary and caucus voters could have chosen.
Many other candidates echoed such sentiments that they were being pitted in what Ted Cruz called a “cage match.” Mike Huckabee refused to violate the so-called “Eleventh Commandment” of Republicanism generated by Ronald Reagan, that “thou shalt not attack thy fellow Republican.”
When Donald Trump was asked by moderators about calling Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator,” he denied ever having done anything of the sort. Moderator Becky Quick did not immediately have the source of the quote on hand, but Trump rebutted it by saying that there was no possible way that he said it.
After a commercial brake, Quick and the CNBC staff were able to find that it had been posted on his website. In a position obviously representative of Donald Trump, he quickly backtracked and defended the statement’s as the moderators had intended all along.
However, at many points throughout the evening the moderators were reticent to ask too many difficult follow-up questions due to audience disapproval. When asking Ben Carson about his endorsement of a particularly questionable supplement brand, Carl Quintanilla asked further questions about the wisdom of that endorsement. When Carson was pushed to answer if that endorsement reflected on his judgement, the audience booed more vociferously than at any other previous debate.
After that, the moderators seemed to lose confidence in their ability to maintain the program. Whenever derided by the candidates for a lack of time or chances to respond, the moderators willingly acquiesced to their desires on multiple occasions.
Subsequently, the format lost some decorum. That is not to say that the moderators were faultless. They asked at the beginning the quintessential job interview question of what each candidates’ greatest weakness was and received nothing but quintessential evasion. It is hard enough to get job candidates to answer that question meaningfully much less politicians.
They also asked questions that strayed from policy discussions into pointless details or inter-party bickering. Some fighting is helpful for contradistinction, but too much can lead to anarchy or bedlam.
Other candidates had moments to shine as well. Carly Fiorina said that too many candidates had talked about conservative changes for too many years. She argued that the current climate necessitated a political outsider who had a proven record of getting things done.
Lindsey Graham, in the JV debate, somehow managed to redirect every question posed to him back to the Islamic State and the threat it poses. Even when interrogated about seemingly more liberal policy positions, Graham said that no commander-in-chief could be as tough on the Islamic State as him.
However, most of the debates focused more on attacking each other or especially the CNBC moderators for the debate at the University of Colorado Boulder. With so much venom and vitriol, one wonders how any of these candidates could endorse the final nominee when one eventually emerges from the crowded field.