Starting with Hillary Clinton-apologist John Harwood's opening question to Donald Trump, the tone of the debate was set. It’s expected that moderators will push the candidates on topics, but the open hostility Harwood showed when asking Trump about his “comic book campaign” was both unprofessional and rude. Harwood then doubled-down when asking Trump about his tax plan, saying the possibility of his plan working was the same as the possibility of Trump “flying away from that podium by flapping (his) arms.”
Next, moderator Becky Quick moved on to Dr. Ben Carson. Rather than ask Dr. Carson about his tax plan, Quick instead began to debate Carson herself on the merit and numbers associated with it. That quickly moved to Harwood asking Gov. John Kasich — easily the most left-leaning candidate on the main debate stage — to repeat his criticism of the Republican Party in general. Interestingly, Kasich was granted time to give his answer uninterrupted by the moderators, an anomaly which would continue throughout the night.
When the candidates began to (finally) debate their tax plans, moderators quickly turned to attacking Sen. Marco Rubio on his Senate voting record, with Carlos Quintanilla calling him a “young man in a hurry.” Quintanilla, like Harwood, doubled-down on his attack on Rubio asking him, “Do you hate your job?”
The questions continued much along this line for the entire evening. Harwood to Gov. Jeb Bush: Why are you a loser? Quick to Carly Fiorina: Why should we hire you when HP fired you (which Fiorina answered at the prior two debates)? Quintanilla to Cruz: Why are you not the candidate American voters want?
It was at this point Cruz got the highest ratings of the night by fighting back. “The questions that people have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match… How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?”
Cruz’s comment unfortunately didn’t change the debate tone. “Mr. Trump, explain again about your bankruptcies, which you’ve been asked about already twice.” “Mr. Rubio, explain all of these things I saw about your finances in a Democrat attack ad.” “Dr. Carson, someone put your image on their website without your permission. Doesn’t this disqualify you from the presidency because clearly your vetting process sucks?”
At one point moderator Harwood was called out by Rubio for repeating an error Harwood had already retracted in print, with Harwood refusing to admit he was asking a question with proven inaccuracies. When Sen. Rand Paul attempted to chime in on tax policy he was promptly shot down, with a smarmy Quick informing him follow-up is at “moderator discretion [smirk].” It bears noting Paul was being cut off from the tax discussion because Quintanilla wanted to ask Kasich a question on legalizing marijuana. Because clearly weed — not oppressive, sky-rocketing debt — is the most critical issue facing our nation today.
“Mr. Trump, I was right and you were wrong. Discuss.” “Mr. Trump, we spent 97 percent of our debate prep calling your resorts to best frame a ‘gotcha’ question and found they are mostly gun free. Explain.” “Mr. Huckabee, talk to me about what a degenerate toolbag Trump is.” “Mr. Bush, let's talk about the legality of fantasy football.”
At that last question, Chris Christie jumped in with more GOP logic: “Are we really talking about getting government involved in fantasy football? 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?” Moments later Christie had one of my favorite quips of the night: “Even in New Jersey what you are doing is called rude.”
The moderators couldn’t even let the candidates get through their closing statements without arguing, with Harwood wanting to debate Trump on the initially scheduled debate length. It was the final nail in the coffin of what, for me, was easily the worst-moderated debate in memory — thanks to the TMZ-style moderating of the CNBC panel.
I would have loved to write about how presidential Rubio appeared, how intelligent Fiorina came across, how quick-witted Cruz was or how unlikable Bush seemed — all of which is true — but their performances were overshadowed by Harwood, Quick and Quintanilla who managed to do the seemingly impossible: make Donald Trump appear like the fourth biggest a-hole in the room. Hopefully the next GOP debate, hosted Nov. 10 by Fox Business, will have a little less bias, leaving time for a lot more substantial discussion.
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