Going by the attempts last night and this morning to figure out what exactly happened at yesterday’s CNBC GOP primary debate, it feels like one of those movies that you’re still trying to sort out days later. “Wait,” you say to friends in the middle of a completely unrelated conversation, “what about that part where…what was that?”
What was that, indeed. According to Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore it was “a big mess of a debate.” It says so right in his headline.
“Even before the debate ended, CNBC was being roundly criticized—Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, tweeted that CNBC ‘should be ashamed of how this debate was handled’—and, to be clear, the moderators did fail,” writes The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson. But it wasn’t because of the nature of the questions themselves, but rather, “It is because the moderators utterly failed to control a group of candidates whose level of detachment from facts and vitriol seemed to surprise them when it shouldn’t have.”
The debate was heavy on classic blame-the-media formations, leveraged by candidates, viewers and pundits before, during, and after the debate.
In one of the night’s most infamous moments, Ted Cruz used media criticism as successful diversionary tactic, to the great enthusiasm of the crowd.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won some of the biggest cheers of the first segment of the Republican presidential debate Wednesday with a vigorous attack on the media in general, and the CNBC moderators in particular.
Cruz, asked about the debt limit, diverted to assert that the questions posed in the first half-hour of the debate “illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match.”
Marco Rubio got in his own zinger:
Cruz’s criticism was echoed by Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who expressed his displeasure by saying “Democrats have the ultimate super PAC. It’s called the mainstream media.”
Turning against mainstream media is an effective, and ongoing, GOP strategy since 2012, as Washington Post’s Paul Farhi went on to point out.
Slate’s William Saletan poked holes in that strategy:
By the end of the evening, Cruz, Carson, Trump, Rubio, and several other candidates had declared war on the press. They claimed to speak for the Republican Party, the American people, and the truth. These candidates are deluded. Many of their statements were falsified on the spot. Others were exposed as absurd by their opponents. It’s true that the debate exposed a division within the country. But the division isn’t between the press and the public. It’s between people who listen to evidence—reporters, policy analysts, and many Democrats and Republicans—and an impervious, defiant wing of the GOP.
CNBC, for its part, responded to criticism with the following statement: “People who want to be President of the United States should be able to answer tough questions.”
For today’s poll, we want to know how you feel about the questions that were asked, regardless of how the debate itself was handled. Let us know what you think below.