Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhat to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Democrats' impeachment case lands with a thud with GOP — but real audience is voters Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on MORE of Texas won some of the biggest cheers of the first segment of the Republican presidential debate Wednesday with a vigorous attack on the media in general, and the CNBC moderators in particular.

Cruz, asked about the debt limit, diverted to assert that the questions posed in the first half-hour of the debate “illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match.”

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The first-term senator went on the paraphrase what he argued were excessively hostile questions directed at a number of the other candidates on stage, including Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE, Ben Carson, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLawmaker wants Chinese news outlet to register as foreign agent Apple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech MORE (Fla.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“You look at the questions; Donald Trump, are you a comic book villan? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kaisch, can you insult those two people over here. Marco Rubio, will you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?” Cruz asked, almost being drowned out as the audience in Boulder, Colo., loudly voiced its approval.

Cruz has been edging up in the poll ratings of late, now fifth in the national averages according to RealClearPolitics and fourth in early-voting Iowa. He is positioned as a potential conservative standard-bearer should Trump and Carson, the current front-runners, falter.

The Texas senator contrasted CNBC's questions with the ones posed to Democrats during their debate last week, where he said "every fawning question" was about which of the candidates was "more handsome and wise."

"The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense than every participant in the Democratic debate. That debate reflected a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks."

Attacks on the media often benefit Republican candidates, as former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) proved in the 2012 race.

Cruz’s remarks appeared to score big with the audience beyond the hall as well.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who is running a focus group of debate-watchers, said that the comments caused the dials measuring approval to hit 98. “That’s the highest score we’ve ever measured. EVER,” Luntz tweeted.

The Texas senator’s remarks also found sympathy in a more unlikely quarter. Left-leaning TV talk show host Bill Maher tweeted: “oh my god did i just hear Ted Cruz say something awesome that i agree with? Yes. The media is even stupider than the pols.”

This story was updated at 9:51 p.m.