- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 29, 2015

Republicans stoked the backlash Thursday against CNBC’s chaotic presidential primary debate even as it became clear that the hostile forum had inadvertently provided the party with one of its best nights of the campaign to date.

The image of Republican candidates pushing back against antagonistic questioning from CNBC’s three moderators, who have since been called everything from “snide” to “arrogant,” fired up the Republican base on the red-meat issue of media bias at a time when Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton has enjoyed weeks of good fortune.

“[Republicans] have been down because the narrative over the last two weeks has been, ‘The Democrats have their nominee, she did well before the Benghazi committee, she did well in her debate, and the Republicans are in chaos,’” said Denver-based political analyst Floyd Ciruli.

“That was essentially the narrative, and last night changed that,” he said. “You saw a little revival here.”

GOP Wins, CNBC Loses Last Night’s Debate,” said the Thursday analysis by the polling firm Rasmussen Reports, citing a poll showing that 75 percent of voters believe media are more interested in “creating controversies” than reporting the news.

Added Vanity Fair, “The candidates ought to send the network flowers by the truckload.”

Even some liberals blasted the moderators of Wednesday’s two-hour debate at the University of Colorado.

An analysis in the left-wing website ThinkProgress called the debate a “trainwreck,” saying, “That wasn’t really because of the candidates, though — it was because of the moderators.” A scathing review in Mediaite said the debate featured “the worst moderation of any debate in American history.”

In response to the criticism, CNBC released a one-line statement saying, “People who want to be president of the United States should be able to answer tough questions.”

Moderator John Harwood was unrepentant. “Moderating GOP debate in 2015 enriched my understanding of challenges @SpeakerBoehner has faced and @RepPaulRyan will face,” he said in a Twitter message.

Although the debate came as a blow to CNBC’s reputation as an honest broker of business and political news, there was a silver lining. The forum drew a whopping 14 million viewers, making it the most-watched program in the channel’s history despite going up against Game 2 of the World Series.

Republicans made it clear Thursday that they have no intention of dropping the debate debacle. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas released a fundraising appeal asking people to “join me in declaring war on the liberal media agenda.”

“On stage last night, it was clear — we need a conservative leader who will both stand up to the liberal media AND fight the Washington Cartel,” said Mr. Cruz’s email.

Mr. Cruz had arguably the best moment of the night when he charged the moderators with bias as he came to the defense of his fellow candidates.

“This is not a cage match. And if 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?’” Mr. Cruz said.

“Let me be clear. The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense than every participant in the Democratic debate,” he said.

Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson called for a “change of format” for the debates before a speech Thursday at Colorado Christian University.

“Debates are supposed to be established to help the people get to know the candidates and get to know what’s behind them and what their thinking process is, what their philosophy is,” Mr. Carson said on 9News. “And what it’s turned into is a gotcha.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said Thursday on “Fox & Friends” that the questions “were clearly designed to either get us to fight against each other or to say something embarrassing about each other, about us, and then ask us to react.”

He also accused the moderators and other journalists of using such tactics to puff up their egos.

“I don’t think it’s atypical from what you see among most people in the mainstream media, which is, you know, privately they believe they’re smarter than the people running, and they can’t wait for their chance to show off in front of their buddies by asking some question they think is going to embarrass, especially Republicans,” Mr. Rubio said.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said CNBC “should be ashamed,” but he came under renewed pressure to enact reforms to avoid any repeats of the melee.

The next Republican primary forum is scheduled for Nov. 10 and will be hosted by Fox Business and The Wall Street Journal.

“The RNC took great strides to make the debate process more orderly by controlling the schedule and adding a conservative element,” RNC spokesman James Hewitt said in a Thursday statement. “We’ve made clear we’re very disappointed in how the CNBC moderators conducted themselves. Going forward we will do all we can to ensure our candidates are treated fairly and asked the substantive questions Republican voters care about.”

The RNC promptly posted a petition to “put the mainstream media on notice.” It gathered more than 20,000 signatures less than 24 hours after the debate.

One Republican presidential candidate who wasn’t upset afterward was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who told the Media Research Center, “I thought they did a good job tonight.”

Not businessman Donald Trump, who told the center, “The media really went after the moderators. And I understand that. I think some of the questions were unfair and much tougher than what Hillary got.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, head of the Democratic National Committee, advised Republicans to toughen up.

“Blaming the mainstream media for all Republican failures is a typical @GOP cop out. Voters know better and won’t be fooled,” she said on Twitter.

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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