Wednesday night’s epic s*itshow of a debate highlighted one fact beyond all others: if Republicans are to win the presidency in 2016, their main opponent will not be Hillary Clinton, but the established media.
CNBC’s panel of questioners, apparently drawn directly from a focus group for the Democratic National Committee, revealed their Hillary Clinton butterfly tramp-stamps long enough to unleash a stream of hit jobs on the candidates.
The good news: Republicans must know that they will not be running against Hillary. They will be running against the media. Last night was an acid test. Only three candidates passed it: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio.
The moderators, by being good little leftists, clarified the Republican field.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t goats screwing basketballs.
Here’s a rundown, by moderator.
Quintanilla was petulant and nasty throughout the evening; he acted like a hurt child when Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) took the time to point out the panel’s bias. His questions reflected the highest priorities of Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
To the field: “What’s your biggest weakness?” This question, culled from a Barbara Walters best-of, was the equivalent of “What kind of tree is your favorite tree?” Who cares? There’s no good answer to this question, as anyone who has ever done a job interview knows. The execrable Governor John Kasich (R-OH) used the opportunity to bash other Republicans as crazy; Donald Trump dropped a great Don Corleone impression — “I never forgive,” he growled, which will likely be the name of his next book; Ben Carson said his greatest weakness is he didn’t want to run for president. Terrible question, mostly bad answers.
To Carly Fiorina, after she said that she wanted to reduce the tax code to three pages: “You want to bring 70,000 pages to three? Is that using really small type? Is that using really small type?” Sneering in the role of objective moderator is not a question. It’s you being an asshat on national television, Carl.
To Marco Rubio: “This one is for Senator Rubio. You’ve been a young man in a hurry ever since you won your first election in your 20s. You’ve had a big accomplishment in the Senate, an immigration bill providing a path to citizenship the conservatives in your party hate, and even you don’t support anymore. Now, you’re skipping more votes than any senator to run for president. Why not slow down, get a few more things done first or least finish what you start?” First off, labeling Rubio’s amnesty plan a “big accomplishment” reveals your cards. Second, this is an illegitimate and stupid gotcha question. Rubio has been in the Senate for the same amount of time as Cruz and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and the same amount of time as Barack Obama in 2008. Rubio answered well, but that doesn’t mean the question accomplished anything worthwhile. And after Rubio’s answer, Quintanilla doubled down, asking if Rubio hated his job. Over and over again. Egregiously bad stuff. When Jeb Bush jumped in to reiterate Quintanilla’s question, Rubio promptly body slammed him, ending his candidacy, however. So at least we can thank Quintanilla for that.
To Ted Cruz: “Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear of — another Washington-created crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?” Terrible question – why not ask about Cruz’s position on the budget, and whether he worried about a government shutdown? Instead, the accusatory question set Cruz up for a fall. Cruz didn’t go for it. He rightly punched the panel in the face at this point, and Quintanilla began whining. He complained that Cruz hadn’t answered his question, although many of the candidates hadn’t answered previous questions. Cruz then offered to answer his question. At which point Harwood jumped in to cut him off, saying, “You used your time on something else.” Because – and it cannot be said enough times after last night – John Harwood is a dick.
To Carly Fiorina: “Mrs. Fiorina, in 2010, while running for Senate in Tech Ridge (ph), California, you called an Internet sales tax a bad idea. Traditional brick and mortar stores obviously disagree. Now that the Internet shopping playing field has matured, what would be a fair plan to even that playing field?” This actual decent question appeared more than an hour into the debate.
To Ben Carson: “This is a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a 10-year relationship. They offered claims that they could cure autism, cancer, they paid $7 million to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas, and yet you’re involvement continued. Why?” This would have been a legitimate question, except that the moderators had so thoroughly discredited themselves by this point that they had no leg upon which to stand. And Quintanilla’s stubborn insistence that Carson must have approved every use of his name and face on a random website is simply ignorant of the way the internet works, unfortunately.
To John Kasich: “Governor Kasich, let’s talk about marijuana. We’re broadcasting from Colorado which has seen $150 million in new revenue for the state since legalizing last year. Governor Hickenlooper is not a big fan of legalization, but he’s said the people who used to be smoking it are still smoking it, they’re just now paying taxes. Given the budget pressures in Ohio, and other states, is this a revenue stream you’d like to have?” Aside from Rand Paul supporters, no one cares. And nobody sees pot as a massive revenue stream, because it isn’t.
To Donald Trump: “Would you feel more comfortable if your employees brought guns to work?” This was supposed to be a gotcha; it backfired when Trump told Quintanilla he’d be happy to have his employees bring guns to work.
To Jeb Bush: “Daily fantasy sports has become a phenomenon in this country, will award billions of dollars in prize money this year. But to play you have to assess your odds, put money at risk, wait for an outcome that’s out of your control. Isn’t that the definition of gambling, and should the Federal Government treat it as such?” Chris Christie hit this one on the head. Does ANYONE care about regulating fantasy football, except for the quixotic Jeb Bush, who meandered around the stage mumbling to himself while answering this doltish query?
Harwood ended his career last night. His performance destroyed any shred of credibility he clung to beforehand. His questions were alternatively factually incorrect and sneering. He repeatedly cut off the candidates, and yelled at them when they failed to abide by his arbitrary rules. Harwood made a mockery of the process, and his faux-seriousness only added to the problem. Harwood won the Candy Crowley Prize for Journalistic Accuracy; he added to it the Walter Duranty Prize for Propaganda. The first candidate to leap a podium and fling Harwood into the audience would have won not just the debate, but the presidency, and perhaps even enduring kingship.
Awful, awful, awful.
He should be fired.
To Donald Trump: “Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?” Trump rightly called out the question, but held his punches against Harwood; he simply said it wasn’t a “very nicely asked question.” That question deserved a full and brutal Trump smackdown. He didn’t grant the audience that pleasure.
To Donald Trump: “We’re at 60 seconds, but I gotta ask you, you talked about your tax plan. You say that it would not increase the deficit because you cut taxes $10 trillion in the economy would take off like – hold on, hold on – the economy would take off like a rocket ship. I talked to economic advisers who have served presidents of both parties. They said that you have as chance of cutting taxes that much without increasing the deficit as you would of flying away from that podium by flapping your arms.” That’s not a question, that’s a five paragraph essay of leftist talking points. The chances of Harwood asking a decent question were the same as the chances as Harwood voting in a Republican primary. When Trump began to respond, Harwood started bashing Trump over the Tax Foundation’s analysis of his proposal – and then Quintanilla jumped in to stop Trump from answering. Egregious.
To John Kasich: “Governor Kasich, hold it, I’m coming to you right now. [Refuses Kasich request to answer on taxes.] Well, I’m asking you about this. I’m about to ask you about this. That is, you had some very strong words to say yesterday about what’s happening in your party and what you’re hearing from the two gentlemen we’ve just heard from. Would you repeat it?” This isn’t even a question, it’s a prompt to smack Republicans. Kasich answered with his own tax proposal – and Harwood refused to accept the answer, again pressing Kasich to attack his colleagues by name. “Let’s just get more pointed about it,” said Harwood. “You said yesterday that you were hearing proposals that were just crazy from your colleagues. Who were you talking about?” Kasich, being execrable, obliged Harwood.
To Jeb Bush: “Governor, the fact that you’re at the fifth lectern tonight shows how far your stock has fallen in this race, despite the big investment your donors have made. You noted recently, after slashing your payroll, that you had better things to do than sit around and be demonized by other people.” Only John Harwood could make the preternaturally boring Jeb Bush a victim. And as soon as Bush began answering, Harwood cut him off with replies of “OK,” and “Got it.” Bush would have been within his rights to tell Harwood to commit acts of anatomic impossibility upon himself. But Harwood then continued by saying that Bush may want to leave because Republicans are so evil: “It’s a — it’s a question about why you’re having difficulty. I want to ask you in this context. Ben Bernanke, who was appointed Fed chairman by your brother, recently wrote a book in which he said he no longer considers himself a Republican because the Republican Party has given in to know- nothingism. Is that why you’re having a difficult time in this race?”
This was an actual question at a Republican debate. Reince Priebus should be fired.
To Rand Paul: “[T]he budget deal crafted by Speaker Boehner and passed by the House today makes cuts in entitlement programs, Medicare and Social Security disability, which are the very programs conservatives say need cutting to shrink government and solve our country’s long-term budget deficit. Do you oppose that budget deal because it doesn’t cut those programs enough?” This question wasn’t even factually accurate. The budget kicks any cuts to Medicare and Social Security down the road. But that didn’t stop Harwood. He quickly asked Paul to bash John Boehner and Paul Ryan. That’s because – and again, it cannot be said enough – John Harwood is a dick.
To Jeb Bush: “Governor Bush, in a debate like this four years ago, every Republican running for president pledged to oppose a budget deal containing any tax increase even if it had spending cuts ten times as large. A few months later, you told Congress, put me in, coach, you said you would take that deal. Still feel that way?” This is a good question, and it came over an hour into the debate. But then Harwood killed it by badgering the witness, refusing to accept his answer. “So you don’t want the coach to put you in any more?” Harwood eventually snarked.
To John Kasich: “Governor John Kasich, you’ve called for abolishing the Export Import Bank, which provides subsidies to help American companies compete with overseas competitors. You call that corporate welfare. One of the largest newspapers in your state wrote an editorial, said they found that strange, writing, that if that’s corporate welfare, what does Kasich call the millions of dollars in financial incentives doled out to attract or retain jobs by his development effort — jobs Ohio. If subsidies are good enough for Ohio companies, why aren’t they good enough for companies trying to compete overseas?” This is a good question. Harwood’s only good question. The ONLY good question he asked in a two-hour debate.
To Ben Carson: “Dr. Carson, we know you as a physician, but we wanted to ask you about your involvement on some corporate boards, including Costco’s. Last year, a marketing study called the warehouse retailer the number one gay-friendly brand in America, partly because of its domestic partner benefits. Why would you serve on a company whose policies seem to run counter to your views on homosexuality?” This is a clown question, bro. After that one decent question, Harwood snapped back to type, receded to the mean. As Carson rightly noted, you can be anti-gay marriage and still think that homosexuals should be treated decently.
To Marco Rubio: “Wired magazine recently carried the heading, “Marco Rubio wants to be the tech industry’s savior.” It noted your support for dramatically increasing immigration visas called H1B, which are designed for workers with the special skills that Silicon Valley wants. But your Senate colleague, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, says in reality, the tech industry uses this program to undercut hiring and wages for highly qualified Americans. Why is he wrong?” This was Harwood’s third decent question. He did not have the facts and statistics to back him, however, so Rubio was able to slip away unscathed.
To Jeb Bush: “[T]he tax reform bill that Ronald Reagan signed in 1986 cut the top personal income tax rate to 28 percent — just like your plan does. But President Reagan taxed capital gains at the same rate, while you would tax them at just 20 percent. Given the problems we’ve been discussing, growing gap between rich and poor, why would you tax labor at a higher rate than income from investments?” This isn’t a terrible question. But what followed was awful: Harwood’s question about Rubio’s tax plan.
To Marco Rubio: “The Tax Foundation, which was alluded to earlier, scored your tax plan and concluded that you give nearly twice as much of a gain in after-tax income to the top 1 percent as to people in the middle of the income scale. Since you’re the champion of Americans living paycheck-to- paycheck, don’t you have that backward?” This is ridiculous and incorrect. Harwood had to correct himself on this score on Twitter weeks ago; the Tax Foundation immediately came out and slammed Harwood for the question. This morning, Harwood is still sticking by it.
To Mike Huckabee: “As a preacher as well as a politician, you know that presidents need the moral authority to bring the entire country together. The leading Republican candidate, when you look at the average of national polls right now, is Donald Trump. When you look at him, do you see someone with the moral authority to unite the country?” Another asshat question, which Huckabee evaded by saying he wears Trump ties. To which Harwood then apparently asked if the ties were made in Mexico or China. Because, as always, John Harwood is a dick.
To Jeb Bush, Donald Trump: “Governor Bush, Mr. Trump says that he is capable of growing the economy so much that Social Security and Medicare don’t have to be touched. Do you want to explain how that is going to happen, Mr. Trump?” Another “let’s you and him fight” question. Bush was ready to fight, but simply doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to carry fights through. Harwood then asked all the candidates about it, culminating in a lofty dismissal of Ben Carson’s Medicare reform plan.
Quick, like her colleagues, represented the worst media have to offer. She was irritating, combative, and incompetent. Even when she got the facts right, she got them wrong: she caught Trump out on H1B visa criticism of Rubio, but when he told her she was wrong, she didn’t know what to do. Brutal performance.
To Ben Carson: “You have a flat tax plan of 10 percent flat taxes, and — I’ve looked at it — and this is something that is very appealing to a lot of voters, but I’ve had a really tough time trying to make the math work on this. If you were to took a 10 percent tax, with the numbers right now in total personal income, you’re gonna come in with bring in $1.5 trillion. That is less than half of what we bring in right now. And by the way, it’s gonna leave us in a $2 trillion hole. So what analysis got you to the point where you think this will work?” This is a foolish question, because as Carson rightly pointed out, he never said his tax percentage would be 10 percent. Carson then attempted to do back-of-the-envelope math for Quick, which she didn’t accept. She began arguing with Carson as though she were a Democratic candidates. It wasn’t a good moment for Carson, but it was also a rotten question. Rule of thumb: anytime a question runs a paragraph, you’re doing it wrong.
To Carly Fiorina: “I’d like to ask you a question. You are running for president of the United States because of your record running Hewlett-Packard. But the stock market is usually a fair indicator of the performance of a CEO, and the market was not kind to you. Someone who invested a dollar in your company the day you took office had lost half of the dollar by the day you left. Obviously, you’ve talked in the past about what a difficult time it was for technology companies, but anybody who was following the market knows that your stock was a much worse performer, if you looked at your competitors, if you looked at the overall market. I just wonder, in terms of all of that — you know, we look back, your board fired you. I just wondered why you think we should hire you now.” This question has been asked and answered repeatedly in debate. But when Fiorina began to answer it, Quick wouldn’t accept the answer. She attempted to link Fiorina to one of Fiorina’s former mentors, Tom Perkins, who has said that voting should reflect wealth. The same media asking such questions once said that Sarah Palin was evil for saying Barack Obama palled around with terrorists like Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi.
To Chris Christie: “In your tell it like it is campaign, you’ve said a lot of tough things. You’ve said that we need to raise the retirement age for Social Security. You think that we need to cut benefits for people who make over $80,000 and eliminate them entirely for seniors who are making over $200,000.Governor Huckabee, who is here on the stage, has said that you and others who think this way are trying to rob seniors of the benefits that they’ve earned. It raises the question: When it is acceptable to break a social compact?” In other words, if you want to fix entitlement programs, you’re gypping people. Which is a lie, given that not a single Republican on the stage wants to deprive current Social Security and Medicare recipients of their benefits.
To Donald Trump: “[L]et’s talk a little bit about bankruptcies. Your Atlantic City casinos filed for bankruptcy four times. In fact, Fitch, the ratings agency, even said that they were serial filers for all of this. You said that you did great with Atlantic City, and you did. But some of the individuals — the bondholders, some of the contractors who worked for you, didn’t fare so well. Bankruptcy is a broken promise. Why should the voters believe the promises that you’re telling them right now?” This question has been asked and answered over and over again. But Quick didn’t ask it yet, so she felt the obligation to do so. Nobody cares about Trump’s record in Atlantic City. Nobody.
To Marco Rubio: “Senator Rubio, you yourself have said that you’ve had issues. You have a lack of bookkeeping skills. You accidentally inter-mingled campaign money with your personal money. You faced (ph) foreclosure on a second home that you bought. And just last year, you liquidated a $68,000 retirement fund. That’s something that cost you thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties. In terms of all of that, it raises the question whether you have the maturity and wisdom to lead this $17 trillion economy. What do you say?” Remember that time Barack Obama got asked about his shady real estate deals with Tony Rezko by a debate moderator? Neither do I. But Rubio was asked about perfectly legal dealings financially. As Rubio pointed out, that was a “litany of discredited attacks.” But that statement also applied to the entire evening. And Quick didn’t quit – she then said that Rubio was a fat cat because he had financial issues after a $1 million book deal. Then she started reading his tax returns. So the hell what? Listening to Betsy Quick’s questions was like watching the torture scene from Casino Royale.
To Ted Cruz: “Senator Cruz, working women in this country still earn just 77 percent of what men earn. And I know that you’ve said you’ve been very sympathetic to our cause. But you’ve also you said that the Democrats’ moves to try and change this are the political show votes.” This is a lie. A flat-out lie. It’s a Democratic talking point straight from Barack Obama stump speeches. It’s horse manure. Anyone who asks this question should summarily be dismissed from the field of politics.
To Donald Trump: “Mr. Trump, let’s stay on this issue of immigration. You have been very critical of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook who has wanted to increase the number of these H1Bs.” Trump lied about this one – he has been critical of both Rubio and Zuckerberg, as well as H1Bs – but Quick couldn’t catch him because she didn’t do her own research. That led to a smackdown by Trump; Quick asked where she got the question, and Trump fired back, “You people write this stuff.”
To Mike Huckabee: “Governor Huckabee, you have railed against income inequality. You’ve said that some Wall Street executives should have gone to jail over the roles that they played during the financial crisis. Apart from your tax plan, are there specific steps you would require from corporate America to try and reduce the income inequality.” One of Quick’s better questions. Then she cut Huckabee’s answer off. Typical.
To Rand Paul: “[A]mong the leading conservative opponents to the creation of Medicare back in the 1960s was Ronald Reagan. He warned that it would lead to socialism. Considering the mounting cost of Medicare, was he right to oppose it?” Because Quick is a leftist, this is intended to be a gotcha question about ending Medicare; this is a Republican debate, so it’s actually a good ideological litmus test.
When Jim Cramer is your sanest contributor, you’re in trouble.
Cramer looked sane last night. Which is totally insane.
To Ben Carson: “Dr. Carson, in recent weeks, a number of pharmaceutical companies has been accused of profiteering, for dramatically raising the prices of life-saving drugs. You have spent a lifetime in medicine. Have these companies gone too far? Should the government be involved in controlling some of these price increases?” Good question.
To Chris Christie: “Governor Christie, there has been a lot of political rhetoric that some bank executives should have gone to jail for the 2008 financial crisis. But General Motors paid more than $1 billion in fines and settlements for its ignition switch defect. One hundred and twenty- four people died as a result of these faulty switches. No one went to jail. As a former prosecutor, do you believe the people responsible for the switch and the cover-up belong behind bars?” Wow, another decent question!
Rick Santelli was the only titularly conservative person on the panel – and his questions were just fine.
To Ted Cruz: “You’ve been a fierce critic of the Fed, arguing for more transparency. Where do you want to take that? Do you want to get Congress involved in monetary policy, or is it time to slap the Fed back and downsize them completely? What are your thoughts? What do you believe?” Good question. Why, look, it isn’t that hard!
To Ben Carson: “Dr. Carson, you told The Des Moines Register that you don’t like government subsidies, it interferes with the free market. But you’ve also said that you’re in favor of taking oil subsidies and putting them towards ethanol processing. Isn’t that just swapping one subsidy for another, Doctor?” Another great question — and it even forced Carson to disown subsidies.
Epperson could have subbed for the main hosts, her questions were so biased.
To Carly Fiorina: “Mrs. Fiorina, you were the CEO of a large corporation that offers a 401(k) to its employees. But more than half of American have no access to an employer sponsored retirement plan. That includes the workers at small businesses, and the growing ranks of Uber drivers and other part-timers in the freelance economy. Should the Federal Government play a larger role in helping to set up retirement plans for these workers?” This question is designed to make Fiorina look evil for not wanting government to mandate something she offered her own employees. And Epperson doubled down on the foolish question when she actually asked, “You wouldn’t agree with a start for 401(k) for businesses or anything like that?” Fiorina, puzzled, immediately answered that she would love for businesses to do so, but mandates don’t accomplish their purpose.
To John Kasich: “Most people can’t get a college degree without going into debt. Over 40 million Americans have student loans and many of them cannot pay them back. This country has over $100 billion in student loan defaults. That’s billion with a b. What will you do to make sure that students, their families, taxpayers, won’t feel the economic impact of this burden for generations?” Why not just have Bernie Sanders ask this question? The question isn’t what we should do differently with regard to colleges – it’s phrased as a plea for debt relief from the government.
Here’s the final tally.
Carl “The Wrecking Ball” Quintanilla asked 9 questions. 7 of them were terrible.
Horrific John Harwood asked 13 questions. 10 of them were awful.
Betsy “Hillary With a Facelift” Quick asked 9 questions. 7 were a waste of space.
Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli did fine. Sharon Epperson didn’t.
But it was the overall attitude of the debate that made it such a ridiculous spectacle. CNBC went out there for ratings and to score points against Republicans. Instead, the entire debacle backfired. The offices should be shut down and salted. Reince Priebus should be fired for allowing that debate. And we all should be able to sue CNBC to get two hours of our life back.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News, Editor-in-Chief of DailyWire.com, and The New York Times bestselling author, most recently, of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014).