Highlights from the Third Republican “Primetime” Debate

The third Republican presidential primary debate, televised by CNBC and available online at CNBC.com, was broadcast from the Coors Events Center at the University of Colorado Boulder and hosted by CNBC personalities Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick, and John Harwood. Though the same candidates on stage this time around were the same as in the “Primetime” more than 6 weeks ago, favors have shifted within the polls: Ben Carson, most notably, went into the debate polling nationally above Donald Trump, a turn from the former real estate developer and reality TV star’s dominance since he entered the race in mid-June.debate

The RNC-sanctioned debate focused on, according to CNBC, “key issues that matter to all voters—job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy.” There were quite a few explosive moments on stage. We’ve picked out our favorites here:

Carly Fiorina on Smiling Enough

The primetime debate started off with a whimper and built up to a bang, with candidates opining on the media’s leftwing bias and the inherent vapidity of the televised debate. But before all that, moderator Carl Quintanilla asked each candidate to list their greatest weakness, to which some dodged the question altogether, and others gave answers that might end the metaphorical “job interview.” Carly Fiorina, on the other hand, voiced one of the challenges faced by female candidates in politics — the disproportionate attention paid to their mood and emotions — and managed to get out enough of her scheduled stump speech opener to sound confident and prepared, a rarity so early in the debate last night.

John Kasich on the Republican Field

In his opening remarks, Ohio Governor John Kasich ignored CNBC’s question and opted to go with more a traditional statement, and it was probably good choice: Kasich has tried, to varying degrees of success, to label himself the reasonable, open-minded establishment alternative to Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and other outsiders. He started the debate firmly in this style, and it might have been his strongest moment all night: he set himself outside of the pack, as an alternative for centrist Republicans looking for experience.

Marco Rubio on Missing Senate Votes

Plenty of attention has been paid — most notably in a recent South Florida Sun Sentinel staff editorial calling for him to resign from the Senate — to Rubio’s mediocre voting record in the Senate, especially with the amping up of his campaign. When moderators asked Rubio about his voting record last night, Jeb Bush took the opportunity to pile on his former protege, telling Rubio that he should either show up to more votes, resign his Senate seat, or drop his presidential candidacy. Rubio responded perfectly, by highlighting the hypocrisy of Bush and the “establishment” for singling out his record, which really isn’t too bad by the standards of past presidential contenders, and asserting that Jeb was just playing politics, and losing, too.

Ted Cruz on CNBC’s Moderators

Ignoring the question asked of him, Ted Cruz had perhaps the night’s pivotal moment, using his skills as a champion debater to pick apart nearly every question asked through that point in the entire debate. Building on the Colorado crowd’s frustration with the moderators, who were more combative than in previous debates hosted by FOX and CNN, Cruz took them to task and made the debate about the Republicans versus the Media.

Trump on Super PACs

This debate’s moderators, unlike the other two held so far for the Republican candidates, seemed committed to giving nearly equal time to every candidate on stage, a herculean task that pushed candidates Trump and Carson slightly out of the spotlight, along with Jeb Bush, who spoke for the least amount of time out of all the candidates. Trump’s one successful moment came with his traditional dressing down of his opponents, who he said were to blame for Washington’s gridlock and recent failures, this time incorporating a criticism of super PACs. Trump recently swore off accepting any super PAC help, and his remarks took advantage of that unique claim within the Republican field.

Huckabee on Entitlements

Mike Huckabee used most of his debate time to appeal to older Republicans, traditionally extremely reliable voters and a huge block of his support, perhaps due to his position as a former commentator and host for FOX News. In addition to touting his plan to invest in curing major diseases, Huckabee outlined his plan to increase spending on Social Security, and ensure the programs remains solvent, so that those who paid into the program originally would see all of its benefits.

Chris Christie on Fantasy Football Regulation 

When the question of whether the government should play a more active role in regulating online gambling — an important question, given revelations that employees of daily fantasy sports sites DraftKings and FanDuel may have used insider information to pick players — it was almost as if CNBC’s moderators were throwing the candidates an anti-media softball. Building on Ted Cruz’s fiery statement that the moderators weren’t asking about the issues about which voters were actually concerned, Christie seized this question to do what he does best: play the part of an angry pragmatist searching for a substantive debate. It might have been a bit of political theater, but it was beautifully executed.

Mike Huckabee’s “Only Guy” Moment

Former Arkansas Governor Huckabee made a brief, biting point when he said that his most identifying experience in politics — the thing that he was “the only guy” on stage to accomplish — was taking on “The Clinton Machine” and living to tell about it (his words). The comments recalled the suicide of Vince Foster, White House counsel during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Foster’s death is an active ground for Clinton conspiracists, and Huckabee took over the Arkansas governor’s mansion after Clinton left it for the presidency in 1992.

Rubio: The Media is a Super PAC for Democrats

If there was any anti-media remark that rivaled Cruz’s diatribe, it was Marco Rubio asserting that the entirety of the mainstream media was not only untrustworthy, according to Cruz’s assessment, but an active organ of Democratic support. Calling the mainstream media “the ultimate super PAC,” for the Democratic Party. The audience agreed, and this was the exclamation point on a night focused on mostly successful anti-media rhetoric.