BOULDER, Colo. — Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE and Ben CarsonBen CarsonRepublicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party Sunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Government indoctrination, whether 'critical' or 'patriotic,' is wrong MORE were put on the hot seat for their economic policies at a wonkish presidential debate Wednesday hosted by the business television network CNBC.
Trump and Carson, the two outsider candidates who have dominated the Republican race, were attacked out of the gate at the third prime-time bout by some of their competitors — and the CNBC hosts themselves.
CNBC moderator John Harwood asked Trump if he was running a “comic book” version of a White House candidacy while Ohio Gov. John Kasich argued Carson and Trump are not fit for the White House.
“My great concern is that we’re on the verge of picking someone who cannot do this job,” said Kasich, the first candidate to speak at the debate. “I’ve watched as someone said we should dismantle Medicaid and leave our senior citizens out in the cold. I’ve heard them talking about deporting 10 or 11 [million] people.”
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul, stood side by side at center stage, the clear leaders in recent polls.
The two are well ahead of the rest of the field, and Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) all signaled they intended to make a move with Wednesday’s debate.
After his blistering opening statement, Kasich returned to his theme that Trump is not ready to be president by criticizing his immigration proposal.
“Folks, we’ve got to wake up. We cannot elect somebody who does not know the job,” Kasich said.
Trump shot back, focusing his barbs on energy in Ohio.
“John got lucky with a thing called fracking,” Trump said.
He then went after Kasich for being a managing partner at Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street investment bank that went bankrupt in 2008 and helped trigger the financial crisis.
“Lehman Brothers started it all, and he was a managing partner,” Trump said. “Then his poll numbers tanked. That is why he’s at the end [of the stage]. ... So you know what? You can have him.”
Kasich didn’t relent.
“I wasn’t on the board of Lehman Brothers ... I was a banker ... and I traveled the country and learned how people created jobs,” Kasich said.
“My state is doing great across the board.”
Cruz, who hopes to win over supporters now backing Trump and Carson, highlighted his new flat tax proposal, which would impose a 10 percent flat tax on personal income and a 16 percent tax on businesses.
He also won cheers with a vigorous attack on the media in general, and the CNBC moderators in particular.
Cruz, asked about the debt limit, instead 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.”
“How about talking about the substantive issues?” Cruz asked as wild applause nearly drowned out his words.
Bush sought to pile on Kasich’s attacks on Carson and Trump, saying he was unsettled by some of the candidates’ tone.
“It troubles me that people are rewarded for tearing down our country, and it’s never been that way in American politics before,” Bush said. “I just can’t do it.”
Bush also got into a nasty exchange with Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublicans would need a promotion to be 'paper tigers' Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (R-Fla.), a former protégé who is now polling ahead of his state’s ex-governor.
Many political observers now see Rubio as a favorite to win the GOP nomination and to surpass both Bush and Kasich.
A home-state newspaper editorial went after Rubio on Wednesday for missing a number of Senate votes as he seeks the presidency.
“Do you hate your job?” asked CNBC host Carl Quintanilla, citing the editorial.
Rubio pointed the votes Barack Obama missed when he, himself a freshman senator at the time, ran for president in 2008.
“This is another example of the double standard that exists” between the mainstream media and conservatives, Rubio said.
Bush interjected himself, swiping at Rubio.
“I expected that he would do constituent service, which means show up for work,” Bush said, turning to Rubio. “Marco, when you signed up for this, it was a six-year term.”
“You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job,” Bush said.
Rubio invoked Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) run for president.
“Someone’s convinced you that attacking me is going to help you,” Rubio said, dismissing the criticism and insisting he wasn’t running against Bush or anyone else on the stage.
Soft-spoken Carson, whose rise in the polls has been a shock to the political establishment, sought to stay above the fray.
He signaled early on that he would not attack other candidates on the stage.
“I believe in Ronald Reagan’s commandment and will not be engaging in the awful things of my compatriots here,” he said.
Updated at 9:40 p.m.