That wasn't a debate, it was an interrogation, with the candidates might as well having been in a police lineup. The leftwingnut bias and hostility from the moderators was so bad that that was the focus of the Washington Post story on the debate. Hell, they openly insulted frontrunner Ben Carson to his face in quasi-racist fashion, which actually got the other candidates (except for Trump, of course) to defend him. Hence the post title above.
I guess the RNC's thinking in including CNBC instead of MSNBC is that they wouldn't get the kind of debate moderation that could be expected from the latter - can't you just picture Rachel Maddow's crew conducting those proceedings? Looks like they were wrong about that. Although Reince Preibus's post-debate statement makes me wonder if there wasn't some, in the word of Bugs Bunny, "stragedy" involved:
“While I was proud of our candidates and the way they handled tonight’s debate, the performance by the CNBC moderators was extremely disappointing and did a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters,” Priebus said in a statement. “Our diverse field of talented and [intermittently] 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.”
Outrageous would be more accurate, such as when they dredged up Marco Rubio's years-old financial difficulties, which earned the Obamedia richly-deserved ridicule at the time several months back and quickly dropped out of the national headlines. If that wasn't an indication that CNBC was bent on making this a case of shooting fish in a barrel, nothing could have been.
This played, naturally, right into the wheelhouses of the two candidates on-stage who are most known for their fondness for mixing it up, Chris Christie ("Even in New Jersey, that's considered rude") and especially Ted Cruz, the latter of whom, because of it, emerged the big winner (not Donald Trump as Newsmax keeps toadyingly insisting):
Ted Cruz won the night when he took a rhetorical flamethrower to the moderators, spelling out the dismissive, DNC-[propaganda]-style questions they had posed to each candidate. He contrasted it with the comparative softballs the Democrats received from CNN. The audience in the hall agreed and judging from the reaction on Twitter, a lot of viewers at home were applauding, too. It was Cruz’s best moment of his campaign so far.
Besides that fantastic moment, Cruz just seemed to be dramatically better last night: His answers were concise, succinct, and direct; he hit the right emotional notes. When a guy gets this much better so fast, you usually want him to pee in a cup to see if he’s juicing.
So opined Jim Geraghty in his Morning Jolt newsletter this morning. Was that, and the collective defense of Dr. Carson, perhaps what Mr. Priebus had in mind all along? To employ another of Bugs Bunny's catch-phrases, "Mnyeah, could be".
Trump certainly did nothing to hurt himself, and didn't venture into his bombast fields much. He looked like he suddenly discovered the concept of risk aversity and is now playing not to lose, even though he's already fallen behind Gentle Ben nationally. That's unfamiliar territory for the caustic slumlord, not just in politics, but his entire life.
Dr. C started slow but picked up the pace as the night wore on, which was more impressive for the combative atmosphere, which isn't his forte.
Carly Fiorina turned in another solid performance that nobody cared about and has probably already been forgotten, just like her brief poll spike after the last debate.
Marco Rubio skillfully fended off the CNBC inquisitors in front of him and Jeb Bush next to him, and was almost as effective at it as Senator Cruz. Which is kind of odd, since the Florida senator is still, to date, a second-tier candidate, and yet there is still so much latent fear of him on the Left. Probably because, as Jeb gave voice to the other day, Rubio is "the Republican Obama" - and who would recognize that phenomenon better than the Dems? Heck, they probably consider Rubio, Cruz, Carson, AND Fiorina to be blatant gimmick infringement.
The consensus loser of the night was Dubya's kid brother, for whom the media-led war zone was not a good format either, and his "punching down" attacks on Rubio (since punching up at Trump accomplished nothing for him), actually demanding that he resign his seat for missing too many Senate votes, got squashed with embarrassing ease. The Florida senator came across as tougher, more articulate, and more informed than the ex-Florida governor. The latter of which has to have been the unkindest cut of all.
We will now see if Cruz and Rubio's performances translate into rising poll numbers, and at whose expense they come.
Then again, this was CNBC, so it's not as though even a debate with Trump on the stage means there were all that many viewers to this debacle.
UPDATE: An interesting nuance from the Weekly Standard's Jonathan Last:
Bush’s attack was almost certainly a pre-meditated set piece. Yet he didn’t have the political sense to see that Rubio was in a very good frame coming off of an answer where he beat the snot out of the moderators. Bush had no ability to read the scene and understand that it would have been better in that moment not to take the shot. He had a plan, so he robotically stuck to it…
On top of all of that, Bush didn’t understand that Rubio’s biggest concern at this point is being slotted as a tool of the establishment. Getting attacked by the establishment guy is the best luck Rubio could wish for. The only thing Bush accomplished is helping Rubio cross over, which will lift him in the polls, which will increase the donor pressure on Bush to drop out.
Here's the Bush-Rubio exchange; judge for yourselves:
How bad was this for Jeb? His campaign telegraphed it, so Rubio knew it was coming beforehand; Jeb looked like he was siding with the CNBC moderators, who had just asked Rubio the same question; Jeb disappeared behind the CNBC moderators after Rubio's devastating rebuttal; and Jeb has spent years effusively praising Rubio, including recommending him to Mitt Romney three years ago as his running mate. And the only possible advantage over Rubio that Jeb Bush has - experience - he couldn't exploit because the biggest example of Rubio's being a greenhorn is when he was duped by Chucky Schumer to be the face of "comprehensive immigration reform" two years ago, something that opposing on-stage last night would have caused Jeb to spontaneously combust.
A Bush hasn't lost a GOP presidential nomination in thirty-five years - until now. Get out, Jeb, before this becomes even more embarrassing.
UPDATE II: Captain Ed calls for pulling the plug on John Kasich, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and "the entire undercard". Amen to that.