About a quarter of the way into the CNBC-hosted Republican debate at the University of Colorado, Sen. Ted Cruz reached back and cast a lightning bolt into the proceedings. He jolted the debate, the whole debate process, and possibly even the election.
CNBC's Carl Quintanilla raised the issue of the debt limit with Sen. Cruz. The deal that Congress and the White House is about to make, said Quintanilla, "would ... prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear another Washington-created crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show that you are not the kind of problem-solver America voters want?"
What? This is journalism?
Cruz responded, "The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media. This is not a cage match. And if you look at the questions, 'Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain?' 'Ben Carson, can you do math?' '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 that people care about?
Cruz's incisive mind was on full display here, as he methodically reproduced, without notes, the vacuous questions that had been asked to each candidate.
Moderator Quintanilla sat looking amused.
But the applause from the audience and the subsequent move by the RNC to suspend the debate scheduled for February, which would have been sponsored by NBC and Telemundo, shows that Cruz hit a bull's-eye.
Now, thanks to that sparkling moment when Cruz woke everyone up by asking the most basic question, "What are we doing here," the Republican candidates and the RNC are doing some serious soul-searching about these debate platforms. Typically, chaos and failure are symptoms of not having a clear direction in mind. And these debates certainly have had these characteristics.
A political campaign is a job-interview process designed to vet all the candidates and pick the best one for the job. The interviewers here, so to speak, are Republican voters. Debates should be structured to serve this end of informing Republican voters. They are part of the interviewing process to help voters get to know their candidates and help them make the best possible choice.
But how can it work if the debate moderators asking the questions are hostile to the Party and don't care about helping to vet the candidate that will best carry the Party's banner?
That's exactly what we had with this CNBC debacle.
The idea that the Party needs to partner with mainstream media outlets, regardless of their political leaning, creates a problem that can be summed up thusly: "By being everything to everyone you are nothing to anyone."
This upcoming election, perhaps more than ever, is a battle for America's soul and future. Are we going to be a left-wing socialist nation or a free nation under God? Democrats are clear and settled with who they are. Now Republicans must pick the candidate that will crystalize what it means to be a free nation under God.
The debates must serve this end and provide moderators who can ask tough and informed questions that vet each candidate, on behalf of Republican voters, to clarify where each stands on what America is about and their ability to lead and implement their vision.
Why not, for instance, a debate platform to focus on the evangelical voter? Evangelicals comprised 26 percent of the vote in the last presidential election, 78 percent of whom voted Republican. Why not a debate hosted by the National Religious Broadcasters, whose members report a weekly cumulative listenership and readership of 60 million Americans?
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has shown his mettle here. He changed the landscape of this campaign and distinguished himself as a real Republican star and leader.