COLUMN: A debate that will live in infamy

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As I write this, it’s approximately 48 hours since CNBC launched a sneak attack on the Republican presidential candidates in Boulder, Colorado, and the political battle lines are still being drawn, but one things is certain: War has been declared.

Another thing is almost certain as well: Just as with Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese drew first blood, they had no idea what kind of massive response they were about to see leveled back at them.

The three stooges, er, moderators who set out to do battle with the top 10 candidates in the Wednesday evening debate are either as out of touch with reality as Jeb Bush, or they went into the debate like wannabe martyr jihadis who gladly strap on a stick-dynamite bomb for the sheer pleasure of taking out the enemy.

The first question was no doubt meant to distract the candidates. First of all, the candidates had been promised an opening statement, which didn’t materialize. (John Kasich, to his credit — and this is the only thing I will give him credit for — pretended he didn’t hear the question and gave his prepared opening statement anyway.) Second of all, the question was so inane (“name your biggest weakness”!)that some of the candidates may have worried they were being lured into a deadly “battle of wits” with a Sicilian (see “The Princess Bride” for more details!).

But it was with the second question that the scales started to fall away from everyone’s eyes as it became obvious that the questioners were not wits, but world-class buffoons who considered themselves the arbiters of intelligence and good taste (once again, check out that Sicilian in “The Princess Bride”).

John Harwood, the lead buffoon — whose name will live in infamy as long as there are debates — tried to humiliate Donald Trump by mocking several key planks of his very popular platform, and then asking “Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?”

Trump, who by now is used to pretentious journalists trying to ambush him (pace Megyn Kelly), politely pointed out to Harwood that it was “not a very nicely asked question the way you say that.”

After that, Harwood’s co-inquisitor Becky Quick went after Ben Carson, the top dog among Republican candidates for the past week or two, and told him his flat tax plan doesn’t make any sense. Now, she may be right, but the proper way to run a debate is to give the candidate enough rope to hang himself, with the able assistance of his opponents, not to garrote the poor man while he is belly up to a podium. Quick not only asked the question, she then told Carson he was either a liar or stupid (OK, not in so many words) for failing to agree with her that his tax plan was a great big poopie diaper (OK, not in so many words).

After Harwood tried unsuccessfully to get Gov. Kasich to repeat some inflammatory comments he had made the previous day about Trump and Carson, the conversation moved on to some other candidates.

The last moderator, Carl Quintanilla, managed to anger the entire population of the United States by defending the IRS from Carly Fiorina’s plan to reduce the federal tax code from 73,000 pages down to three. “Is that using really small type?” Quintanilla chimed in (twice actually, probably because he couldn’t understand why he didn’t get a laugh the first time) sounding for all the world like a snarky seventh-grader who has no idea why he can’t get a date.

The next question, also by Quintanilla, tried to body check Marco Rubio into the wall and make him cry. Calling Rubio “a young man in a hurry” (for the record, he’s 44), Quintanilla told the U.S. senator he should “slow down, get a few more things done” before running for president, and show up for more votes in the do-nothing Senate.

Naturally, this made Marco mad, but he didn’t fight back. He got even by knocking Quintanilla’s curveball out of the park:

“That’s exactly what the Republican establishment says too. Why don’t you wait in line? Wait for what? This country is running out of time. We can’t afford to have another four years like the last eight years.”

Quintanilla didn’t know he had been flanked, so he continued to press forward with his failed line of attack. “The Sun-Sentinel [says] you act like you hate your job. Do you?”

Rubio suddenly sounded more like President Reagan than the dopey kid wet behind the ears that Quintanilla painted him to be: “I read that editorial today with a great amusement. It’s actually evidence of the bias that exists in the American media today.” Rubio pointed out the hypocrisy of a newspaper that endorsed John Kerry and Barack Obama when they missed multiple votes as U.S. senators while running for president, but is morally offended by his own necessity of doing the same.

It was at this point when Jeb Bush decided to commit ritual harakiri by hitching his wagon to the moderators’ flailing fortunes. For a second, it appeared that Bush would come to the defense of his former apprentice Rubio. If he had done so, with passion and righteous anger, he might have saved his campaign. Instead he pointed the wrong end of his dull blade at Rubio and impaled himself on a foolish demand that Rubio should resign from the Senate. If absence from one’s job were enough to necessitate resignation, then Gov. Bush would have resigned from the presidential race long ago because he certainly hasn’t been present and accounted for in this primary campaign!

Rubio quickly dispatched Bush by noting the self-evident truth that the reason his former mentor was criticizing his Senate record was because “someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”

Fittingly, John Harwood circled around the already savaged Gov. Bush and asked him to explain why he was such an abject failure, but with a brilliant stroke of liberal bias, Harwood encouraged Bush to blame the dopey Republicans who aren’t smart enough to vote for him.

“Ben Bernanke, who was appointed Fed chairman by your brother, recently wrote a book in which he said he no longer considers himself a Republican because the Republican Party has given in to Know-Nothingism. Is that why you’re having a difficult time in this race?”

You have to hand it to Harwood. By working in the Bernanke quote about Know-Nothingism, he appealed to both the ill-informed majority of Democrat voters who would assume it simply meant Republicans are stupid, and also to the better-informed voters who knew it referred to a 19th century movement opposed to unrestricted immigration because they feared it would alter the character of our nation.

Harwood may have even been hoping he could coax Bush into saying something stupid about illegal immigration such as his classic description of crossing the border illegally as “an act of love.” Bush didn’t take the bait, possibly because he was still weakened by being worked over by Rubio a minute before.

Becky Quick came back into the fray to taunt Carly Fiorina with a familiar jab at her record as the CEO of Hewlett Packard, a position from which she was fired. Fiorina gave her usual, well-rehearsed response to the attack, and then it was Sen. Ted Cruz’s turn.

Carl Quintanilla thought he would taunt Cruz, a dedicated opponent of more government spending while the national debt is $19 trillion and rising: “Doesn’t your opposition show that you’re not the kind of problem solver American voters want?”

Well, Boy Howdy! There’s no getting anything past these moderators. For sure, the American voters want someone who will send them and their children deeper into debt. No doubt, they oppose principled leadership that tells the truth about our inability to maintain our welfare state into the far-distant future (let’s say about 2030). And so, of course, Ted Cruz is anathema to the bought-and-paid-for American voter.

But just a minute. Ted Cruz is having none of it. Suddenly, he rises up like a Shakespearean hero and fights back. He’s mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it any more, and the American public watches enamored as someone finally speaks blistering truth to the bullies.

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. 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 the people care about?”

All across America people stood cheering in their living rooms. “You go Ted. You tell ’em.”

The sneak attack had been effectively countered, and from that point forward, most of the candidates joined forces against the slippery sloppy questions. The entire nation rose up to ask, “Could those moderators possibly have not known how foolish they were? And what does that say about the mainstream media?”

Watch the tape, or read the transcript of the debate online. You owe it to yourself to see the blatant attempt to manipulate public opinion by insulting the standard-bearers of the Republican Party. There is no reasonable, responsible Democrat anywhere who could defend the behavior of the three intemperate moderators.

You could almost say there was “blood coming out of [their] eyes; blood coming out of [their] wherever...” except we now know you can’t say that. Oh wait, it was the now totally discredited mainstream media that told us you can’t say it, so maybe Trump was right when he said it after all.

 Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake. If you don’t like his opinion, stop by the office and he will gladly refund your two cents. E-mail responses may be sent to

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