The CNBC Republican debate was a hot mess. It also was exactly what the Republican Party needed.
Conventional wisdom is moderators Becky Quick, John Harwood, and Carl Quintanilla were so biased they ruined the debate, but nothing could be further from the truth. They provided an invaluable service – they united the field and laid bare media bias for the world to see.
Their questions were awful, but they weren’t unfair (at least the ones not based on lies). It wasn’t the topics; it was their tone.
Donald Trump should be asked about how he plans to fulfill the promises he’s making on the trail, but asking him if he’s running a comic book campaign crossed the line.
Ted Cruz should be asked to explain what his plan for dealing with the debt limit is, it just shouldn’t be couched in “are you insane?”
Whoever ends up winning the nomination is going to face a hostile press – more skillful at masking it than the CNBC crowd, but hostile nonetheless. Those candidates learned how to neuter it by hitting it head-on.
It was Newt Gingrich vs. CNN times 10. Well, times 8 since Jeb Bush and John Kasich were non-entities unable or unwilling to deviate from their playbooks.
It was only a matter of time until someone had enough; the only surprise was that it came so early. When Ted Cruz beautifully deconstructed the questions from Larry, Curly and Moe, leaving the emperor naked on that stage, there wasn’t a Republican in America without a smile so wide it hurt in the best kind of way.
This was the moment we’ve been waiting for, and it was served up by smug journalists fully expecting to get away with it again.
Had it just been one hit, the Cruz hit, it would have left a serious mark. But it was followed perfectly by Marco Rubio’s “Hillary has the ultimate superPAC – the media” body blow. Then Chris Christie delivered a roundhouse with his “Do you want me to answer your question or do you want to answer it?” comeback.
Each building off the others, the field was emboldened and the attitude shifted. With the exception of Bush and Kasich, who stuck with their plans, each of the other candidates finished the debate stronger than they started.
In boxing you never want the decision to go to the judges, because the judges bring their own biases and prejudices. You want the knockout; no ambiguity. Whoever emerges to face Hillary Clinton, or another Democrat should she be indicted, will need not only to fight the Democrat but the entirety of the mainstream media. Wednesday, Republicans found a way to fight it and win.
Were it not for the arrogant trio’s condescension, the GOP field would still be operating on the media’s terms. There would be no discussion of debate format or network changes or demanding issues be seriously addressed in future forums. It was an unwitting but invaluable service.
Republicans being Republicans, there’s always the chance of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, so caution is warranted.
There is talk from some candidates of having talk radio hosts moderate a debate. That would be a huge mistake.
As much as I admire the names being bandied about for that position, they would not be good moderators. They are monologists not known for their interviewing skills. They’ve also, at one point of another, denounced most, if not all, of the candidates on various issues. It’d be like adding more podiums to the debate rather than conducting it. And a conductor is what’s needed.
While the candidates confer in search of a debate format, they should consider a conductor-type debate host. Someone to facilitate a conversation on the issues that matter, but only by keeping the conversation moving. Raise a topic, explain it briefly, then serve as traffic cop, bringing in each candidate on that topic. Letting the conversation go where it goes, playing devil’s advocate as needed, but recognizing no one is in the room or watching on TV because to see this moderator.
No podiums, only stools. No desk for the conductor, only comfortable shoes. The entirety of the stage for all at all times. The conversation and the bodies go where they go. Imagine a serious policy discussion among adults for two or more hours. Let’s see what these candidates can do without the shackles of a rigid format.
Freedom isn’t free, so the cost of entry also must be increased. A minimum of a 5 percent average in national polls bar is not unreasonable at this point. If it picks off a few recognizable names, then those names need to work harder to be more popular or recognize it just might not be their time.
The GOP needs to maintain the spine steeled this week, keep it arched against the media. But it can’t avoid the questions and shouldn’t try. They shouldn’t “suspend” NBC from all future debates, they should be demanding weekly debates on NBC. Stay on offense. Keep them on their heels. Call out garbage questions, steamroll them and get the message out over their vacuous heads.
The path to victory was exposed this week. The candidates just have to decide if they have the nerve to take it. Depending upon what comes next, the most biased debate yet could just turn out to be the best debate ever.