And you thought CNBC’s GOP debate was going to be all about Donald Trump putting on his brass knuckles and knocking Ben Carson out of the front-runner spot, and that Bush Family Dynasty’s well-thought-out-in-advance moment when Jeb! would rise like the phoenix from the ashes and get back in the game. Well, here are the Top 5 Moments That Actually Happened:
1. GOP White House hopefuls decide the enemy is the media and go harder after the moderators than they do one another – almost more than they went after Hillary Clinton, which is saying something. With questions like the one to Huckabee as to whether “as a minister” he thought Trump has the “moral authority” to be President, the CNBC debate crew clearly had a strategy to provoke candidates into YouTube-ready moments. Problem was the strategy was so transparent, the candidates saw through it and mostly declined to play along. And CNBC seems to have forgotten that if there’s one thing that unites the GOP, it’s a sense of victimhood at the hands of “mainstream media.” CNBC pretty much handed an opportunity to any of the panelists, but Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee made the most of it. “This is not a cage match!” Cruz shot at CNBC after
2. The 2016 race had its first Shakespearean Father/Son Tragedy moment when Jeb Bush lit into the guy he once mentored, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Rubio got asked if he would resign his Senate seat to run for the White House, as was suggested in an op-ed piece in the Sun Sentinel. “Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term. You should be showing up for work,” Bush said, scolding Rubio for his “French work week” and adding, “Just resign, and let someone else take the job.” But poor Bush couldn’t play out the scene, and got upstaged by the youngster, who responded that the newspaper piece is “evidence of the bias in American media today” (He forgot to mention the paper had previously endorsed him in his Senate run) and said dismissively to Bush, “Somebody has convinced you that attacking me will help you.” Bush looked like a guy who’d brought a palm frond to a knife fight – or, as Bill Maher tweeted, “like the guy who’s in the car reading while his wife is in a store shopping.”
3. CNBC anchor Becky Quick wins a place in Presidential Debate History as Least Prepared Questioner, when a simple, flat denial from Trump derails her attempt to ask him about his having knocked Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on immigration policy. “Where did I read it?” she asks, helplessly (and will spend the rest of her life asking herself, “Did I really say that out loud on the air?”). Twitter pretty quickly comes to her rescue with the answer: She read it on Trump’s own website.
4. When Trump pulled out his These Losers All Need SuperPACs gag, Rubio smoothly twirled it into another attack on the press: “The Democrats have the ultimate SuperPAC: the mainstream media” — as evidenced, he said, by Hillary Clinton’s post-Benghazi hearing coverage.
5. Watch out, Putin, Chinese politburo, etc.: If Trump can out-negotiate a ratings-starved financial network, think what he can do to you! Trump used much of the “30 seconds” he had for a closing statement to remind everybody of his recent beat-down of CNBC over the debate length and elevate the event to a level of national importance. “They lost a lot of money [on ad spots], everybody said it couldn’t be done. … And in about two minutes, I renegotiated it down to two hours so we could get the hell out of here.” CNBC’s John Harwood protested that the debate was always going to be two hours. Trump disputed, but no matter: The crowd was cheering, and somewhere in Moscow and Beijing, notes were being taken.