The spin room consensus: CNBC lost the debate

By Daniel Malloy, AJC Political Insider

BOULDER, Colo. — The first figure storming into the spin room Wednesday night was Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who sided with the candidates and the booing crowd in attacking the moderators for the third Republican debate.

“I’m very disappointed in the moderators, very disappointed with CNBC,” Priebus said.

From Twitter snark to the spin room, CNBC took a beating for questioning that was awkward and fumbling at times, and at others seemed derived from an opposition research book.

Steve Deace, a spinner for Ted Cruz and Iowa conservative radio host, pointed to moments when a tough question about Ben Carson’s readiness for the Oval Office went too far and made Carson look like a victim, and when the moderators had Donald Trump nailed on whether he called Marco Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s senator” but waited a half-hour before revealing the quote Trump denied came from his own website.

Said Deace:

"But this, I think this, I hope that this is rock bottom for our industry. If we can be more unprofessional and more feckless than this, I will be very very disappointed for the human race."

Former RNC chairman Michael Steele, now an MSNBC commentator, said the questions did not match the promise for the debate to focus on the economy.

"These questions were personal, they were meant to provoke and poke, and I don't think that was very helpful. And I think it sort of took the evening into a space it didn't need to go to. … It's like wh0 are you working for? Just ask a straight-up question about their jobs plan, the economy as a whole."

The campaigns themselves were less eager to jump on the moderators. In some cases, the candidates came out looking better, such as a Rubio exchange on his finances. Said Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan:

"[It works for the candidate] only if you can answer the questions in a better fashion and turn it back on them. It's better if you're skilled and good at it like Marco. In that case, yeah. If not, you fumble around and you don't give a good answer, it doesn't turn in your favor."

Jeb Bush campaign manager Danny Diaz had a sharp exchange with a CNBC producer during the debate, but he later said it was more about speaking time than bias:

"I just communicated that I thought the amount of time allotted was a little bit less than what we had hoped, but you know what? We had an opportunity to talk in front of the American people, and we're going to continue to do that."

Trump at one point during the debate thanked Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for coming to his rescue when Huckabee was asked about Trump’s morals. Facing the press afterward, Trump did not bash the moderators too hard — like he did after the Fox debate:

"Well, when you look at the Hillary debate, that was a soft one. It was all softballs. And our debate was much tougher. I mean I loved it, I had a great time, but it was a much different debate than what the Democrats had."