The CNBC Republican presidential debate on Oct. 28 was contentious, poorly managed and hosted by ineffective moderators, said Stony Brook political science professor Leonie Huddy.
Huddy, a regular on-air exit poll analyst on CBS national radio, described the CNBC debate as being more civil than the Republican debate hosted by Fox News. However, her analysis concluded that this was more due to a general strategy by Republican candidates than any competence on the part of the moderators.
“The Democratic debate showed the Democrats as a cohesive team,” Huddy said. “And so the onus was on the Republicans this time to say ‘Hey, we’re on the same page too.’ If anything, a lot of the conflict last night was with the moderators.”
Huddy criticized the CNBC debate moderators—Becky Quick, John Harwood and Carl Quintanilla—for being unable to pursue topics relevant to the subject of the debate.
“They were terrible,” Huddy said. “I mean, I have to say, I thought that they were really awful. I think what distinguished this Republican debate is that CNBC is about economic matters, and they didn’t really pursue those. They would chop from one thing to another, change the topic, so in the end the candidates were kind of ignoring the questions and just saying whatever they wanted to say.”
The Republican candidates were quick to comment on this, as Ted Cruz accused the moderators of trying to instigate a “cage match.” Marco Rubio later called the mainstream media the “ultimate Super PAC” for the Democrats. For Huddy, it’s difficult to tell if these statements are completely accurate.
“Who knows if you could accuse [the moderators] of liberal bias, but they certainly didn’t exhibit a great deal of competence,” Huddy said. “Part of the problem is that it’s a difficult debate to moderate because there’s so many candidates. At times it devolved into a shouting match between the candidate and the moderator, with people being a little unclear on the rules. It looked like they were not in control of the debate.”
Ted Cruz was one of the candidates that used this chaos to their advantage, according to Huddy, as his accusation against the moderators and his willingness to keep talking even while out of turn earned him increased popularity among the crowd.
“I think, if you listen to the applause and took that as a meter of what was going on, that was one of the high points of the debate for [Cruz],” Huddy said. “I think it just tapped into a pre-existing belief about the news media that I think a lot of the Tea Party supporters and very conservative republicans think that it’s a big left-wing conspiracy.”
Huddy also concluded that Jeb Bush fell victim to the debate’s relaxed format due to his unwillingness to speak out of turn.
“[Bush] really didn’t get to say much because he wasn’t willing to shout over the moderators,” Huddy said before commenting on his chances on the primaries. “I’d say Bush, if not out now … I mean I know he’s got money, but if you’re backing him, you would be sorry that you had. He’s not forceful enough in these debates, nor is he getting his point across.”
While Huddy said Bush is losing ground as a primary candidate, she also concluded that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were the best performers of the debate.
“I think I mentioned Rubio and Cruz because they were able to talk about their economic policies simply in ways that could connect to ordinary voters,” Huddy said. “They were also very forceful. Rubio is the more positive of the two. Cruz came out as the attack dog. I don’t think either persona hurts them.”
Featured image credit: Gage Skidmore