Reince Priebus didn’t hold back.
Minutes after the close of Wednesday’s debate, the Republican National Committee chairman leveled extraordinary criticism at the debate’s host network, echoing his candidates on stage.
“I’m disappointed in the moderators. I’m disappointed in CNBC. … It was one ‘gotcha’ question, one personal question after another,” Priebus said, in video aired afterward on CNN.
He added: “I’m proud of our candidates for pretty much sticking together. I’m very disappointed in the moderators, and I’m very disappointed in CNBC.”
The host network of the third Republican presidential debate quickly became the punching bag for Republican candidates and the national Republican Party, who both claimed the network and its moderators had unfairly treated the candidates.
A network spokesman defended its debate.
“People who want to be President of the United States should be able to answer tough questions,” CNBC spokesman Brian Steel told Business Insider.
But the candidates leveled one complaint after another on stage and off it.
Real-estate magnate Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner, began the debate slamming CNBC’s supposedly unfair question about his campaign’s seriousness. He also ended the debate by ripping CNBC in his closing statement. Trump noted that he had successfully pushed the network into a two-hour debate timeframe, which he said was a sign of his negotiating talent.
“These folks, CNBC, they had it down to three, three and a half hours,” he said. “I went out and said it’s ridiculous. … In about two minutes, I renegotiated down to two hours so we could get the hell out of here. Not bad. And I will do that with the country: We will make America great again.”
A moderator disputed Trump’s claim.
“Just for the record, the debate was always going to be two hours,” moderator John Harwood said.
“That is not right,” he said. “That is absolutely not right. You know that. That is not right.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s (R) campaign manager reportedly confronted a CNBC producer about the debate. And Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Kentucky) campaign started fundraising off of the allegedly unfair debate format before the event was even over.
“Rand warned you the media would try and black out his message,” Paul’s campaign wrote to supporters. “And they are putting their plan into action. In the first 60 minutes of tonight’s debate, he was given only 2 minutes to speak!”
CNBC moderator Carl Quintanilla asked Cruz about his hard-line voting record in the US Senate, questioning him about whether he was a problem-solver. But Cruz pivoted, pointing immediately to what he deemed unfair questions during the first hour of the debate.
“Let me say something at the outset: The question that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said.
“This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions: ‘Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain? Ben Carson, can you do maths? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?’ How about talking about the substantive issues.”
The audience roared in approval.
Next up was retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has surged to become a front-runner along with Trump in recent weeks.
The audience booed loudly when a moderator challenged Carson over his controversial association with Mannatech, a nutritional-supplement company based in Texas. He appeared in a promotional video and spoke at two conferences hosted by the company, whose supplements have come under fire.
Carson dismissed the question.
“That’s easy to answer. I didn’t have an involvement with them. Total propaganda. I did a couple speeches for them. I did speeches for other people — they were paid speeches. It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them. Do I take the product? Yes. I think it’s a good product,” he said.
The moderator then pointed out that Carson was on the company’s webpage. Carson said he didn’t give them permission to do that.
After the audience loudly booed the follow-up question, Carson simply said: “They know.”
The audience cheered.
Finally, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) entered into a discussion with Quintanilla about fantasy football, and the investigation into allegations of misconduct within the two biggest daily-fantasy sports websites.
“Carl, are we really talking about getting the government involved in fantasy football? Wait a second. We have $US19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football!” Christie exclaimed as the audience roared in approval.
Harwood then turned to climate change and asked what Christie would do to address the problem.
“First off, what we don’t do is do what Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and Barack Obama want us to do, which is their solution for everything: Put more taxes on it,” Christie said.
“What should we do?” Harwood interjected.
“What we should do is to be investing in all types of energy, John,” Christie continued.
Harwood jumped into the conversation again to ask who should be doing the investing. Christie then turned on the moderator.
“John, do you want me to answer to do you want to answer? How are we going to do this?” the governor asked. “Because I got to tell you the truth: Even in New Jersey, what you are doing is called rude.”
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