The third Republican debate held last night was hosted by CNBC, one of the main cogs of the liberal media, and this set the tone for the entire debate. Several of the candidates had no choice but to directly address the issue in a night that offered both general clues as to the GOP platform in the general election as well as a few heated exchanges between the candidates.
On whole, most agreed that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz benefited the most from the debate, while Jeb! continued to appear to lose points with prospective voters.
Here are a few of the main highlights:
The CNBC Moderators Were Combative
This debate was hosted on an NBC network as the candidates ventured into the heart of the mainstream media's leftist bias. There were a number of exchanges that pitted the moderators against the candidates rather than against one another. Florida senator Marco Rubio (the youngest candidate in the field) roused cheers and applause when he characterized the mainstream media as "the ultimate super PAC" for the Democrats, and again when he cited the "double-standard" it uses for conservatives.
Carly Fiorina was forced to interrupt one of the moderators just to get a word in, while Donald Trump had multiple dust-ups with moderator John Harwood, who appeared on Comedy Central's Daily Show last week. Several times, Trump came to another candidates' defense for being asked a "nasty" line of questioning.
The strongest moment of the night may have come when Texas senator Ted Cruz thoughtfully and forcefully rebuked the moderators and CNBC for ignoring any substantive issues.
“The questions asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media," Cruz said assertively, though with a bit of exasperation. The crowd roared in response, clearly feeling the same way about the negative narrative the moderators were trying to paint of virtually every candidate on stage.
Both Cruz and Kentucky senator Rand Paul expressed a desire to explore the gold standard again after Congress audits the Fed. Like his father, former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, the younger Paul has tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation calling for a Fed audit.
Rubio Bested Jeb!
Team Jeb! made it clear that its debate strategy was to attack Marco Rubio in an "All-Florida" showdown. Bush began by calling out Rubio for missing votes in the Senate while on the campaign trail, while also bringing up Rubio's apparent flip-flop on immigration reform. (He is now against it.) However, the move largely backfired on Jeb! after Rubio pointed out the attack was baldly politically motivated. In essence, Bush fell into a trap set by Rubio's staff, as they seem to have prepared the junior senator well ahead of time.
The encounter with Rubio wasn't the only time that Jeb! came off as petty, either. When asked about whether or not sports gambling should be regulated differently, Jeb! boasted that he was undefeated in his fantasy football league. (At least he's winning something.) This opened the door for New Jersey governor Chris Christie to boom, “We have ISIS and Al–Qaeda attacking us, and we’re talking about fantasy football?”
Ben Carson Mostly Stayed on the Sidelines
The two front-runners in the polls, Ben Carson and Donald Trump, largely stayed on the sidelines in this debate relative to their opponents, who are all desperately looking to score points with voters and surge in the polls. Neither candidate seemed to the hurt themselves, however: it was Carson whom the debaters tried to malign when they were first booed the loudest. By and large, however, the former neurosurgeon leading in the latest Iowa polls fell into the background on the debate stage.
Donald Trump Was Himself
Although he was definitely more subdued than in previous exchanges, Donald Trump was the same brash straight-talker he always is. Now that the rest of the party is beginning to view Trump as a more serious contender for the nomination, there were far less attacks on the "seriousness" of his campaign—except from the moderators, who compared his candidacy to something akin to a "comic book."
Ohio governor John Kasich did try and portray Trump as unfit to lead (and implied that his "greatest weakness" is his concern that the party is "on the verge" of nominating someone incompetent for the job of president, i.e. Trump). This prompted Trump to bring out several of Kasich's real weaknesses, like serving on the board of Lehman Brothers during the financial collapse.
In an interesting exchange, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee admitted he liked Trump, and was even wearing one of his Trump Collection neckties.
For more on the debate, you can read Politico's 15 Most Explosive Moments from last night.