LOS ANGELES, Oct. 30, 2015 — The day after the 2016 Republican contenders got together for a pair of debates in Boulder, Colo., the news cycles were not about policy but the moderators and the candidates’ response to the moderators. CNBC sponsored the debates.
Republicans frequently accuse the moderators of being biased, and in this case the CNBC crew crossed the line into overt hostility. Lead moderator John Harwood has a long history of supporting liberals and attacking conservatives.
Harwood and John Quintanilla were combative and disrespectful. Becky Quick was slightly less obnoxious.
As for Jim Cramer, he is best known for ranting and raving about how bullish he was right before the 2008 financial crisis. Why he was chosen to ask questions rather than Larry Kudlow is a mystery.
Rick Santelli was the only respectable moderator, but his appearance was brief.
GOP candidates suffer when they attack moderators unfairly. On this night, when the antipathy toward the GOP candidates was as blatant as it was inappropriate, the candidates who pushed back the hardest were rewarded.
After all, a GOP nominee will not be trusted to stand up to ISIS if they are too weak to stand up to a nasty liberal moderator. The Republican candidates who attacked each other suffered the most.
With that, here are the debate grades from the CNBC GOP debate.
Rubio: He should adopt the moniker “Marco the Magnificent.” He absolutely shone. When the moderators tried to attack him on missing some votes, he pointed out how that was never an issue when Barack Obama and John Kerry were running for office. He blasted the moderator for suggesting he should wait his turn and let elders run for president. He pointed out that the Democrats have the ultimate Super PAC, the mainstream media. He managed to work in Benghazi. He was prepared. He was presidential. Grade: A
Cruz: He was phenomenal in attacking the moderators for their lack of respect and substance. Cruz gets criticized for being combative, but when somebody is launching personal attacks against you, being combative is the only appropriate response. Cruz also defended his rivals, telling the CNBC moderators that their questions were why Americans no longer trust the media. On substance, Cruz offers zero ambiguity. He will obey the Constitution and bring back the rule of law. Cruz was fiery. Grade: A
Christie: This was a night where his brashness worked perfectly. He questioned the intelligence of asking a question about fantasy football when the world is burning. He fiercely defended his rivals and noted that they were better than anything the Democrats had to offer. He repeatedly focused on Hillary Clinton, which was red meat for the crowd. He also went past the audience and spoke directly to the viewers at home in his blunt style. He asked them if they would promote the woman who took part in making things so awful in the world today. He was on message the whole night. He took down Harwood, asking the moderator after one particularly inappropriate tone, “Do you want to answer or do you want me to answer?” Grade: A
Carson: Except for one strong moment in the middle of the debate, he was overshadowed. His upside is that he is very likable and genial. On this night, other candidates just shone brighter than he did. He did not make any mistakes, but he did not stand out as he has done in previous debates. He admitted he was wrong on oil subsidies, which showed him to be a man of integrity willing to admit error. That earned him respect. Grade: B
Trump: He was surprisingly subdued, and it seemed that the debate moderators were determined to ignore him. Trump gets criticized for being too bombastic, so it would be unfair to criticize him for being too quiet. He was asked whether he would rethink his position on preventing his employees from bringing guns to work. It was a ridiculous question only because the debate was supposed to be focused on economics. Trump actually admitted he would rethink the issue and perhaps change his position. That was a courageous thing to say, and it shows that Trump is not afraid to adapt to changing when he is presented with new evidence. Leaders do that. He made no mistakes but did not shine as he did in previous debates. Grade: B-
Fiorina: Her performance on this night was not nearly as strong as her previous debate performances. She likes to say she is Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare, but there is no evidence to prove or disprove that assertion. She again tried to explain why she was fired as CEO from Hewlett Packard. Again, she offered a tortured explanation based on a series of events that are in dispute. She keeps saying she should be elected based on her record, but she still has not succeeded in convincing people that her record is one of success. Grade: C
Huckabee: He had a couple of amusing one-liners, but it would be a challenge to find a single memorable thing he said. It was a surprise that the moderators did not even bother to ask him why he raised taxes as Arkansas governor. He was relegated to the margins by moderators who looked as if they would rather be asking him about evolution and abortion than economics. He was crowded out. Grade: C-
Paul: Paul’s supporters would lie down and die for him, but his debate performance was again listless. He was gift-wrapped a question about the Federal Reserve, but Cruz got to answer that question before Paul did. With Cruz in the race, Paul does not have the libertarian wing of the GOP all to himself. Without the niche and sense of humor his father has, Paul found himself pleading for airtime. If ever a debate was tailor- made to appeal to Paul’s strengths, this was it. He just was not given the chance. This may be unfair, but nothing about this debate was fair. Grade: C-
Bush: He is on the ropes. He tried to deliver the knockout blow yesterday, but he may have delivered it to himself. He went after Rubio and got his hat handed to him. If you are going to start a conflict with a fellow debater on stage, you have to win. Bush did not. There is no question that Bush has the policy chops to do the job required of a president. He just does not seem to enjoy the campaigning part, which only feeds into those who see him as part of a dynasty. He just did not look or sound good. He got better as the debate went on, but it was too late. Grade: D
Kasich: He was a train wreck from the start. He continued his strategy of attacking his own party. He seems to want to join the New York Times wing of the Republican Party that consists of David Brooks, George Will and Jon Huntsman Jr. Kasich fails to grasp that being the darling of the liberal media disappears once even the most compassionate of Republicans faces off against a real leftist. Ask John McCain. Kasich flailed wildly, screaming to anyone within earshot that he mattered. On this night, he did not. Grade: F
Moderators: Except for Santelli, they were boorish, unctuous and unprofessional. They also were not in command of the subject matter and challenged more than one candidate on columns written about events that never happened. Trump asked, “Who writes this stuff?” The reason Fox News crushes its rivals is that it offers hard news instead of liberal bias. CNBC is supposed to focus on finance, but its liberalism is why it is getting crushed by upstart Fox Business Network. Harwood wins the Beth Reinhardt award for the moderator who should never be allowed to moderate another GOP debate ever again. Grade: F-Triple-Minus
As for the liberal media outlets who declared Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party the winner, those columns were written before the GOP debate even started and deserve zero credence. They already have those columns prepared for the fourth GOP debate, which will take place on Nov. 10 in Milwaukee.
Fox Business Network is the host.
Democrats remain in hiding until their second debate on Nov. 6 in South Carolina. It will be held on a Friday night to minimize viewership. It will be moderated by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, since Democrats seem far too unwilling to take questions from moderators unwilling to hug them, much less challenge them.