By Ben Kamisar
Republicans are lashing out at CNBC over Wednesday's night's GOP debate, with the party's campaign chairman saying the network "should be ashamed" of how it was handled.
In a biting statement issued after the event concluded, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said that while he was "proud of our candidates and the way they handled tonight’s debate, the performance by the CNBC moderators was extremely disappointing and did a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters.”
"CNBC should be ashamed of how this debate was handled.”
Jeb Bush's campaign manager, Danny Diaz, meanwhile, exchanged words with a CNBC employee over his candidate's lack of speaking time.
Bush, who had been looking to use the debate to boost his sagging poll numbers, spoke the least of all the candidates at the debate, according to a New York Times count.
"They didn’t control the debate, plain and simple. It was not a fair debate in that regard," Bush said on CNN.
"There were gotcha questions like there had been in the other debates, as well," he added.
CNBC quickly defended the event as the GOP criticism began pouring in.
"People who want to be President of the United States should be able to answer tough questions," Brian Steel, a CNBC spokesman, told The Hill in an email
During the debate, candidates confronted CNBC moderators for their questions several times, with Ted CruzTed CruzBreitbart, liberal activist cooperated on GOP primary disruptions: report Juan Williams: When WikiLeaks leaked my cell number 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race MORE leading the charge.
"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,” Cruz said.
"You look at the questions: Donald TrumpDonald TrumpObama reads mean tweet from Trump on ‘Kimmel’ 5 takeaways from the Pa. Senate debate Report: Clinton ordered operative to troll Trump with duck MORE, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, can you insult those two people over here? Marco RubioMarco RubioBreitbart, liberal activist cooperated on GOP primary disruptions: report Obama seeks down-ballot gains after being midterm loser Chamber endorses bill to block proposed estate tax rules MORE, why don't you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?”
Cruz reiterated that criticism in an appearance on Fox News's "Hannity" after the debate.
"The media, they are the Democrats' cheerleaders," Cruz said.
"The moderators and the networks don’t want the American people to vote for any of the 10 men and women on that stage."
Cruz's shot at the CNBC moderators, which ignited the debate crowd, was one of several combative moments during the prime-time debate.
Trump, who had predicted ahead of the bout that it would be unfair, mixed it up with CNBC moderator John Harwood when he asked whether Trump’s campaign promises amount to a “comic book version of a campaign.”
“It’s not a comic book, and it’s not a very nice leading question,” Trump responded.
Later, in his closing statement, Trump hammered CNBC, accusing the network of seeking to profit off the candidates.
“These folks at CNBC, they had [the debate] down to three, three and a half hours,” Trump said. “I just read today in Tthe New York Times — $250,000 for a 30-second ad. I went out and said it’s ridiculous, I could stand up here all night. Nobody wants to watch three and a half or three hours ... and in two minutes I renegotiated it down to two hours so we can get the hell out of here.”
Several weeks before the debate, Trump and Ben Carson threatened to boycott if CNBC scheduled a debate that lasted for more than two hours and didn’t allow the candidates opening and closing remarks.
“I have to hand it to Ben, he was with me on this. We called in [and] we said that’s it, we’re not doing it,” Trump said.
Harwood disputed Trump’s account.
“Just for the record, the debate was always going to be two hours,” he said.
Trump shot back: “That’s not right. That’s absolutely not right. You know that. That’s not right.”
Many of the lower-polling candidates, including Mike Huckabee and Rand PaulRand PaulWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election How low is the bar for presidential candidates, anyway? MORE, also swatted down the moderators when told their time was up, noting that many of the other candidates had been allowed to continue.
The moderators appeared to be losing control in the latter half of the debate, with the candidates repeatedly talking over each other until they could claim the stage.
Chris Christie, known for his own brash personality, took issue with interruptions by moderators when he was answering a question on daily fantasy football.
“Do you want me to answer or do you want to answer?” he asked Harwood to cheers.
“I’ve got to tell you the truth, even in New Jersey what you are doing is called rude.”
Jonathan Easley contributed.