Whatever pundits and polls say about who won or lost the Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, there was one clear loser: the media.
Candidates during both debates took jabs at the mainstream news media on Wednesday night, from Sen. Lindsey Graham’s playful admission that he turns to the Fox News app (“We’re in the Republican primary here,” the South Carolina Republican said.) to Donald Trump’s closing-statement argument that he forced CNBC to trim the debate to two hours, a claim the moderators refuted.
Republicans’ discontent with the way things were being handled by CNBC moderators became clear about 30 minutes into the debate, when Sen. Ted Cruz opted out of answering a question about whether or not his opposition to a bipartisan Congressional budget agreement makes clear that he“not the kind of problem solver American voters want” to rile against the panel and their questions.
“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said. “This is not a cage match.”
“How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?” he asked. “The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every fawning question from the media was, ‘which of you is more handsome and wise?’”
And that was only the beginning. As moderator after moderator lobbed questions at the candidates, some of which seemed designed to pit them against one another or pin candidates into a corner, the presidential hopefuls onstage felt compelled to address their perceived bias. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has had his own troubles with the media as of late, went to so far as to suggest the media are fundraising for the Democratic party.
“The Democrats have the ultimate Super Pac,” Rubio said. “It’s called the mainstream media.”
Even the audience felt some questions went too far. When retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was questioned about his ties to the nutritional supplement company Mannatech, which has faced scrutiny, the audience balked at the moderators insistence that Carson was evading the question.
“They know,” Carson quipped as the audience booed.
At another point, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sparred with moderator John Harwood after he was cut off during a discussion on fantasy football.
“John, do you want me to answer or do you want to answer?” Gov. Chris Christie said. “Even in New Jersey what you’re doing is called rude.”
The scrutiny didn’t stop with the candidates, either. After the debate, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus blasted the panel’s “extremely disappointing” performance, saying the moderators “did a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters.”
“Our diverse field of talented and exceptionally qualified candidates did their best to share ideas for how to reinvigorate the economy and put Americans back to work despite deeply unfortunate questioning from CNBC,” said Priebus. “CNBC should be ashamed of how this debate was handled.”