GOP candidates slam CNBC after unruly economic debate
© Getty Images

BOULDER, Colo. — The third Republican presidential debate was expected to be a battle between Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE and Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonCarson's affordable housing idea drawing undue flak Overnight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules it says are too lax MORE, or Trump and the rest of the field.

Instead, much of the debate was a fight between the 10 GOP candidates on stage and CNBC, the business network hosting the contest.


Several candidates bashed the media in general and CNBC moderators John Harwood, Becky Quick and Carl Quintanilla in particular over the questions asked during the two-hour debate.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters MORE (R-Texas) accused the hosts of pitting the candidates against each other in order to promote a “cage match.”

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads What the gun safety debate says about Washington Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China MORE (R-Fla.) ripped Quick after a question about his bookkeeping skills and whether he had the “maturity” to be president due to his finances. 

“You just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents, and I’m not going to waste 60 seconds detailing them all,” Rubio shot back. 

Rubio later won applause for likening the mainstream media to a super-PAC for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner.

After the debate, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus criticized CNBC, saying it “should be ashamed of how this debate was handled.”

In a statement, he said the moderators were “extremely disappointing and did a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who got less screen time than many of the other candidates, also went after the network.

“They didn’t control the debate, plain and simple. It was not a fair debate in that regard,” he said in an interview on CNN afterward.

Bush campaign manager Danny Diaz said he spoke with CNBC during the debate and expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of time Bush got. 

"We know we can't do debates with MSNBC. Now we can't do anything with CNBC. So I think NBC News has a problem on their hands," said Mike Shields, a former top aide at the RNC. 

"The crowd turned on them, the candidates kind of stuck together. It's a real problem going forward [for the network]," Shield said, adding that he hadn't heard of campaigns expressing worry about the network ahead of the debate.

"Why would anybody think that CNBC, of all places, would be something where you would have a 'gotcha' debate?" Shields asked, noting the next debate will be held by a competing network, Fox Business.

"CNBC did a terrible job, they didn't include Sen. Paul in the promotional material, they put him in the bathroom, and they gave him very few questions. And, frankly, they did a bad job for all the candidates," Chip Englander, the campaign manager for Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (R-Ky.), told The Hill. 

The "bathroom" remark alluded to the greenroom provided to Paul, which was smaller and less luxurious than those given to other candidates.

Englander also expressed dissatisfaction that CNBC didn't bring up the issue of marijuana, a topic on which Paul drew headlines in the last debate by going hard after rivals including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

"It seems so goofy that CNBC didn't have any time," Englander said. "I mean, the debate is in Colorado. ... That would have made a lot of sense, but CNBC didn't do really anything that made sense tonight."  

While the focus seemed to be squarely on CNBC after the debate, the candidates also turned their fire on each other while on stage.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich opened with a blistering attack focused on Trump and Carson, suggesting neither of the leading candidates is fit for the Oval Office.

“My great concern is that we are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job,” Kasich said.

Kasich also had a fiery exchange with Trump later in the debate, when the real estate tycoon went after the former congressman for being a managing partner at Lehman Brothers, the investment bank that went bankrupt in 2008. 

“I was a banker,” Kasich said of his role in the Wall Street firm, saying he traveled the country and “learned how people created jobs.”

Bush tangled with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has surpassed his former mentor in polls, by criticizing his fellow Floridian for missing Senate votes to run for the White House.

“You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job,” he said.

“Someone's convinced you that attacking me is going to help you,” Rubio shot back, dismissing the criticism and insisting he wasn't running against Bush or anyone else. 

Rubio's aides were beaming following his performance, with a top aide saying there was "no question" Rubio got the better of the high-profile exchange with Bush.

"We had a very good night," said Rubio spokesman Alex Conant. "I think we expected there would be more questions about the economy than there were, since it was an economic debate."

Bush perhaps had the most at risk in the debate. After announcing he was cutting staff and expenses, the onetime front-runner needed a strong performance to offer assurances to his supporters, but he did not appear to achieve it.

Carson went into the debate on par for the first time with Trump, who has led the race alone for more than three months.

The retired neurosurgeon is ahead of Trump in Iowa, and also beat the real estate mogul in a national poll from CBS and The New York Times this week.

He faced intense pressure heading into the debate to show he understands details about major economic issues and told reporters hours before the debate that he hoped those watching would be able to "find out that doctors actually do know something about economics.”

It seems unlikely the debate will knock Carson from his perch, even if he did not particularly stand out with his answers.

- Updated at 12:10 a.m. on Thursday