CNBC's Televised Show Trial

GOP candidates face a firing squad manned by leftist journalists.

The Republican presidential candidates’ debate on CNBC wasn’t so much a debate as it was a firing squad manned by left-leaning journalists.

Over and over journalistic equivalents of, “When did you stop beating your wife?” were asked of the candidates.

The reporter-moderators weren’t just asking questions: they were prosecuting the candidates at a televised show trial. Personal attacks were disguised as questions. (Here is a transcript of the at times boisterous 10-way main debate, along with a transcript of the four-way undercard debate that preceded it.)

There was no shortage of conservative pundits who likened the televised proceedings to a canned hunt after a three-member panel of CNBC personalities spent two hours hurling loaded questions that painted the Republicans as absurd caricatures unworthy of being taken seriously.

Former Attorney General Ed Meese said, “After 15 minutes it was clear that this was not a debate, but a verbal shooting gallery set up by CNBC, with the targets the Republican candidates and the shooters their biased antagonists from the press.”

During the Wednesday night debate in Boulder, Colo., Texas Sen. “Ted Cruz accurately described what was going on,” Meese said. “Whoever selected the ‘moderators’ should be fired and the RNC leaders who allowed it should be condemned.” The co-moderators for the debate were CNBC’s John Harwood, Becky Quick and Carl Quintanilla.

“The questions were the bullets” from the “media assassins” moderating the debate, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show yesterday. Michael Savage said on his broadcast that the journalists in the debate were “interrogators” and that they were tougher on the Republican candidates than the Benghazi Select Committee was on former Secretary of State and Democrat presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton last week.

Daniel Greenfield opined that “CNBC was the big loser.” Although the debate was supposed to focus on “the economic worries of a nation impoverished by two terms of the Obama Economy, Republican candidates struggled to talk about the concerns of working Americans while CNBC moderators dug up old discredited attacks from the CNN debate and fired gotcha questions at them.”

The response of Ted Cruz to a loaded question from co-moderator Quintanilla stole the show.

Quintanilla posited that a compromise between Congress and the White House would boost the debt limit, “prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear of – another Washington-created crisis is on the way.” He asked Cruz if his “opposition to it show[s] that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?”

The senator let Quintanilla have it. “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” he said to loud applause. He continued:

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 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 the people care about?

Cruz contrasted the GOP debate with the Democratic candidates debate Oct. 13, “where every fawning question from the media was, ‘Which of you is more handsome and why?’” He added, “The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense than every participant in the Democratic debate,” which was “between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.”

The conservatives and moderates in GOP focus group impresario Frank Luntz’s debate-watching panel turned their favorability dials up to 98 out of a maximum of 100 during Cruz’s answer. Luntz said that no statement had ever received such a high rating in his more than 15 years of focus groups.

After all the candidates responded to the initial question about what they considered to be their personal weaknesses, CNBC anchor and New York Times writer John Harwood immediately went about Donald Trump, mocking his insurgent candidacy as cartoonish.

Noting that Trump has promised to “make Americans better off because your greatness would replace the stupidity and incompetence of others,” Harwood said, “let’s be honest. Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?”

The normally unflappable Trump was taken aback. “No, not a comic book, and it’s not a very nicely asked question the way you say that,” he said.

Trump pointed out that CNBC economics pundit Larry Kudlow “loves my tax plan” and that building a wall along America’s southern border with Mexico is not farfetched.

“They built the great wall of China. That’s 13,000 miles. Here, we actually need 1,000 because we have natural barriers. So we need 1,000.”

Harwood stayed on Trump’s back, pointing out that the candidate has claimed his tax plan “would not increase the deficit because you cut taxes $10 trillion … [and] the economy would take off like a rocket ship.”

The co-moderator editorialized that he “talked to economic advisers who have served presidents of both parties. They said that you have as [much a] chance of cutting taxes that much without increasing the deficit as you would of flying away from that podium by flapping your arms.”

“Then you have to get rid of Larry Kudlow, who sits on your panel, who’s a great guy, who came out the other day and said, I love Trump’s tax plan,” Trump replied.

The day after the debate Harwood shrugged off criticism from Republicans across America and attacked GOP lawmakers. “[M]oderating GOP debate in 2015 enriched my understanding of challenges @SpeakerBoehner has faced and @RepPaulRyan will face,” he tweeted a few hours before Paul Ryan was sworn in as the new Speaker of the House.

On the eve of the debate The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway had sounded the alarm about Harwood’s left-wing bias, recounting some recent headlines of his articles. Here are a few of them: “On the Economy, Republicans Have a Data Problem”; “Tax Plans of G.O.P. Favor the Rich Despite Populist Talk”; and “Bernie Sanders: A Revolution With an Eye on the Hungry Children[.]”

On Wednesday, Becky Quick targeted Ben Carson’s “flat tax plan of 10 percent”, saying “I’ve had a really tough time trying to make the math work on this.”

Carson said he never gave 10 percent as the tax rate. “I used the tithing analogy.” The rate will “be much closer to 15 percent.” Cutting taxes will stimulate the economy, he said.

Harwood invited Ohio Gov. John Kasich to attack two of his fellow candidates. “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?”

Without naming other candidates, Kasich, a former congressman, said he was “the only person on this stage that actually was involved … [in] balancing the federal budget.” He mocked other fiscal proposals as “fantasy tax schemes.”

Quintanilla jabbed Carly Fiorina’s tax reform plan that would reduce the federal tax code from “70,000 pages to three.”

“Is that using really small type?” he quipped.

And for the umpteenth time on the campaign trail, Fiorina was taken to task for being fired as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, this time by Quick. Once again Fiorina defended herself by saying Silicon Valley icon Tom Perkins, who led the charge to oust her, later regretted what he’d done.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio handled a separate jab from Quintanilla masterfully. The co-moderator offered up a talking point that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would wield against Rubio minutes later.

“You’re skipping more votes than any senator to run for president,” he said, posing a question that never seemed to get asked of then-Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) when they sought the presidency. “Why not slow down, get a few more things done first or [at] least finish what you start?”

“That’s exactly what the Republican establishment says too,” Rubio shot back. “Why don’t you wait in line? Wait for what? This country is running out of time. We can’t afford to have another four years like the last eight years.” Rubio also described some serious economic problems the country is facing. “For the first time in 35 years, we have more businesses closing than starting.”

Quintanilla then said a Rubio home state newspaper, the Sun-Sentinel, is calling on him to resign, “not rip us off, when they say Floridians sent you to Washington to do a job, when they say you act like you hate your job, do you?”

Rubio dismissed the editorial as “evidence of the bias that exists in the American media today,” and Quintanilla came back with, “Well, do you hate your job?”

Minutes later Jeb Bush scolded Rubio for his Senate roll call absenteeism. “But Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” Bush said in a variation on one of the questions the media used to hound Sarah Palin out of the Alaska governor’s mansion.

With Republicans at each others’ throats, manipulated by agenda-driven left-wing journalists, Wednesday was just another night in the life of America’s biased mainstream media.