It was, hands down, the most arresting moment of the Republican debate in Colorado.
One of the CNBC moderators, Carl Quintanilla, asked Senator Ted Cruz whether his opposition to the just-announced congressional deal raising the federal debt limit demonstrates that he’s “not the kind of problem-solver American voters want.”
Cruz’s response was to turn the tables on the moderators, blasting them for the hostility toward the candidates that oozed from virtually every question they had asked so far.
Then, with devastating accuracy, he recited back the offensive 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?”
By this point, the audience was going wild with cheers.
But Cruz wasn’t finished. He contrasted the animus of the media panel toward the GOP field with the recent Democratic debate, “where every fawning question was: Which of you is more handsome and wise?” And then he underlined the message: “Nobody watching at home believes that any of the moderators has any intention of voting in a Republican primary.”
It was brutal takedown, and CNBC’s smarmy moderators had it coming. Cruz is far from the first conservative to rail against liberal media bias, but he did it about as effectively as it can be done in 30 seconds. The clip of that moment will go viral. It may or may not give a boost to Cruz’s presidential hopes, but it will certainly reinforce the public’s sense that the mainstream media isn’t trustworthy.
Rubio played the media-bias card, too. When he was asked about a home-state newspaper calling on him to resign from the Senate because of all the votes he has missed while on the campaign trail, he pointed out that he has missed fewer votes than John Kerry and Barack Obama — two former senators who ran for president, and were endorsed by the very same paper.
Bush then made the mistake of trying to pile on: “Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work.” Rubio’s deft response was to note that Bush claims to be modeling his campaign after John McCain’s — “yet I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s voting record. The only reason why you’re doing it now is because . . . someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.” Ouch.
It was a good night for Cruz and Rubio; a bad night for Bush. But the biggest loser in Boulder wasn’t a candidate: It was the media.
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.
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Correction: An earlier version of this column misquoted GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz.