4 must-see moments from the GOP debate

Viewers tuning into the Republican debate were likely looking to see a fight, but, as it turned out, the third meeting of the top contenders for the GOP nomination didn't produce the bout they expected.

In the run-up to the CNBC hosted debate, billionaire businessman Donald Trump was expected to lob grenades at retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson after Carson moved past Trump into the lead in several national polls. That wasn't the case Wednesday when the candidates seem to come together to pick another target – the media.

CNBC moderators Carl Quintanilla, John Harwood and Becky Quick were on the defensive during the two-hour debate as candidates complained about the questions, the tone of the event and not being allowed the opportunity to speak.

While most on the stage took swipes at the media in general or CNBC's questioners in particular, Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas), got the loudest cheer from the crowd in the Coors Event Center in Boulder, Colo., when he challenged the debate's moderators to ask more substantive questions.

"The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media," Cruz said. "Everyone home tonight knows that the moderators have no intention of voting in a Republican primary."

Cruz slammed the moderators for questions he said were meant to set one of the group against another.

"This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions -- Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don't you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues."

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While Cruz drew the loudest reaction – and, according to pollster Frank Lutz, the most dramatic reaction he ever recorded in a focus group watching the debate – he was not the only one taking media members to  task.

Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.),  challenged  the mainstream media,  complaining  of a liberal bias. Rubio likened the support he says the mainstream media gives former Secretary of  State Hillary Clinton to a political action committee.

"OK. I know the Democrats have the ultimate Super PAC. It's called the mainstream media … . And I'll tell you why. Last week, Hillary Clinton went before a committee. She admitted she had sent e-mails to her family saying, "Hey, this attack at Benghazi was caused by Al Qaida-like elements." She spent over a week telling the families of those victims and the American people that it was because of a video. And yet the mainstream media is going around saying it was the greatest week in Hillary Clinton's campaign," Rubio said.

"It was the week she got exposed as a liar. It was the week that she got exposed as a liar... ."

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Ben Carson got support  from the 1,000 at the venue when Quintanilla challenged his judgment on being associated with Mannatech, a company that produces nutritional supplements.

"This is a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplement, with which you had a 10-year relationship. They offered claims that they could cure autism, cancer. They paid $7 million to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas. And yet your involvement continued, why?"

Carson admitted he took the supplements and had given two paid speeches to the group, but denied he was associated  with the company in any other way.

Quintanilla pressed Carson why his image was on the company's website, questioning whether it spoke to his "vetting process or judgment."

That's when the crowd began to boo.

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And while the candidates also commented on the media and the moderators, there were some sharp exchanges within the group.

The most pointed came between fellow Floridians former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rubio. Bush echoed the essence of an Orlando Sun-Sentinel editorial  that called for Rubio to resign his Senate seat because he is failing to represent Florida as he  campaigns for president.

"When you signed up for this, this is a six-year term. You should be showing up to term. Literally, the senate, is it a French work week? You get three days to show up. Just resign and let somebody else take the job," Bush said. "There are a lot of people who are living paycheck to paycheck in Florida."

Rubio counter saying he didn't recall Bush complaining about John McCain missing votes as he ran for president.

"Jeb, let me tell you, I don't remember you ever complaining about John McCain's vote record. The only reason you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position. Someone convinced you attacking me is going to help you. I can't campaign about the future of America or attacking anyone else on this stage. I will continue to have tremendous admiration for Governor Bush, I'm not running against anyone on the stage. I'm running for president."

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Some other highlights from the evening:

  • Donald Trump admitted he carries a gun. "I do carry on occasion, sometimes a lot … but I like to be unpredictable."
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called the candidates in the Democratic debate "the socialist," ''the isolationist" and "the pessimist."
  • Marco Rubio on cutting Social Security: "I'm against anything that's bad for my mother."
  • Christie on whether the government should regulate betting on Fantasy Football:  "Wait a second, we are $19 trillion in debt, people out of work, we have ISIS and Al Qaeda attacking us and we're talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?"
  • Bush on kissing Democrats: "You find me a Democrat willing to cut spending $10 … I'll give them a warm kiss.