During Wednesday’s Republican debate, the punching bags were the questioners themselves.
The Republican candidates who participated in CNBC’s primetime presidential debate pummeled the network’s moderators during Wednesday night’s televised showdown, repeatedly accusing them of unfair questioning.
It’s not uncommon for Republicans to rail against the mainstream media to win applause from conservatives during debates. (Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich perfected this during the 2012 cycle).
But on Wednesday evening in Boulder, Colorado, some of the biggest moments of the night were when the candidates ripped into the moderators over and over as the debate went on.
“You know, let me say something at the outset,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said, delivering one of the biggest applause lines during the debate. “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media.”
“This is not a cage match,” Cruz added. “And, you look at the questions — ‘Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?’ ‘Ben Carson, can you do math?’ ‘John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?’ ‘Marco Rubio , why don’t you resign?’ ‘Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?’ — How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?”
Near the beginning of the debate, CNBC’s John Harwood asked businessman Donald Trump if he is running a “comic book version of a presidential campaign” — something that provoked Trump to shoot back.
“No, not a comic book,” Trump replied, “and it’s not a very nicely asked question the way you say that.”
At one point, the crowd booed the CNBC journalist who asked retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson if it said something about his “judgement” that he gave speeches to a company that paid $7 million to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas.
“I didn’t have an involvement with them,” Carson replied. “That is total propaganda, and this is what happens in our society. Total propaganda. I did a couple of speeches for them.”
“See?” Carson said to CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla when the crowd booing the questioning. “They know.”
The crowd also booed when Huckabee was asked a question about Trump.
“Such a nasty question,” Trump chimed in.
At another point, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie snapped at Harwood during the debate, chiding him and saying that “even in New Jersey that’s considered rude.”
The first question of the night from moderators was for the Republican candidates to list their biggest weakness. Christie refused to say.
“I don’t see a lot of weakness on the stage quite frankly,” he said. “Where I see the weakness is in those three people left on the Democratic stage. You know, I see a Socialist, an Isolationist, and a Pessimist, and for the sake of me I can’t figure out which one is which.”
On social media, some conservatives took issue with Harwood’s question to Ohio Gov. John Kasich to “repeat” his criticism of Trump and Ben Carson from an earlier campaign event.
“You had some very strong words to say yesterday about what’s happening in your party and what you’re hearing from the two gentlemen we’ve just heard from,” he said. “Would you repeat it?”
Others, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, went after the media when defending himself against a recent editorial in a Florida paper calling on him to resign for missing a number of votes as senator.
Rubio quipped that Democrats have the “ultimate Super PAC” — the “mainstream media.”
“Let me say, I read that editorial today with a great amusement,” Rubio said. “It’s actually evidence of the bias that exists in the American media today.”
Rubio argued that the newspaper, the Sun-Sentinel, didn’t call on other Democrats, who missed votes while running for president, to resign over the years.
“So this is another example of the double standard that exists in this country between the mainstream media and the conservative movement,” Rubio said.