Debate 3: Ted Cruz Changes the Game
There was a disturbance in the force last night at CNBC's Republican debate, and it left no doubt of who won and who lost. The loser was CNBC, and the winners were all ten Republican candidates – in varying degrees, of course. (More on that later). And there is no doubt when this shift in the axis happened.
Everything changed when Ted Cruz dressed down Carl Quintenilla and John Harwood – two of CNBC's far-left commentators – and literally mocked their absurd line of questioning.
Cruz did not just criticize the questions; he made sport of them. He demonstrated just how infantile most of the CNBC crew was (Tea Party originator Rick Santelli not included). Cruz flat-out embarrassed them, and they knew it.
After the crowd stopped roaring in approval of Cruz's protest, which took a while, the rest of the Republicans followed the Texas senator's lead, and there was almost no Republican-on-Republican crime after this exchange. In fact, we then saw numerous examples where Republicans made it clear that any of the ten on the stage would be far preferable to what we have now, and to Hillary Clinton. These comments were met with loud approval from the audience every time. Meanwhile, Quintenilla was literally booed loudly three times.
Later in the night, Chris Christie embarrassed the mods again with his fantasy football reply, as did Mike Huckabee by turning a gotcha question related to Donald Trump into praise of Trump. I have my problems with Christie and Huck overall, but both are demonstrably nimble on their feet.
And because these precious egotistical and not very bright media mavens crave the love of the audience, I submit that this dynamic will go farther than just recasting the last hour or so of this debate. I think the moment was a shot across the bow of any liberal moderators in waiting for Republican debates. These candidates have now seen the light. They will not be cowed by gotcha questions, nor will they accept the liberal templates underlying the questions. The candidates will fight back, and they will get cheered while the moderators get booed.
The mods don't like that. Quintenilla flushed several times. He was not having fun. (I was.)
Sean Hannity led his show with the notion that Cruz's reply was a turning point for all debates. This meme is not new. It just seems to escape almost everyone's memory.
Consider: We saw from Newt Gingrich four years ago in Myrtle Beach – and then Charleston three nights later – that this is what the Republican primary voters want to hear and need to hear. Newt turned hard against the media's gotcha questions and went on to win S.C. by 13 points. But more to the point, the S.C. turnout was a record by some 35%, as a jazzed electorate just could not wait to go to the polls. It was a win for the entire field in a way. This was in contrast to lower turnouts in both Iowa and New Hampshire, where the Republicans attacked each other and forgot Barack Obama, whoever the hell he was.
Why Newt gave up that strategy in Florida is a mystery, and another topic for another day. But after S.C., turnouts were down, and the die was cast for a low turnout of the base on general election day. The rest is history.
Perhaps this lesson won't be forgotten this go-round. I can't imagine Cruz abandoning it. And certainly Trump, Fiorina, and Christie are well-equipped and not afraid to take off the gloves with media idiocy, either. We saw Marco Rubio's willingness to push back as well.
It cannot be said enough: CNBC lost the debate, hands down. The Republican field won, hands down.
This leads to a comment Cruz made to Hannity after the debate, suggesting that a moderating panel of Hannity, Mark Levin, and Rush Limbaugh would be far more appropriate for a GOP debate. I love the idea; in fact, I put it forth four years ago here in American Thinker. It makes sense. A Republican primary should be fought on Republican turf, and from a Republican (conservative) POV.
As for how the candidates did stacked up against one another, I would agree with last night's analysis consensus (a rarity) that Cruz and Rubio probably helped themselves the most, while Trump, Christie, Fiorina, and Huckabee had good nights as well. Jeb was the big loser, as he's appearing more and more disengaged and perhaps over his head. Kasich played well to his constituency, but sadly for him, that constituency is not in the Republican base. Ben Carson seemed tired, and yet even he scored in his low-key and subtle way.
I suspect that over the next couple of weeks, we'll see Cruz and Rubio creeping up (as they have been for a couple weeks) while Trump and Carson remain about where they are. I think Jeb will drop some more, and perhaps he'll be gone before debate number 4. Same for Rand Paul. And hopefully, we'll see more scorn for and criticism of Reince Priebus and the RNC for their bone-headed, tone-deaf approach to debates.
Meanwhile, it's clear that CNBC peaked on the morning of February 19, 2009, when a little known (at the time) trader named Rick Santelli threatened to hold a "Chicago tea party on Lake Michigan." Since that day, CNBC has noticeably lurched far to the left, and it was on display again last night.
C. Edmund Wright is a contributor to American Thinker, Breitbart, Newsmax TV, and Talk Radio Network. He is author of several books, including Amazon bestseller WTF? How Karl Rove and the Establishment Lost…Again.