The Republican candidates took a number of swipes at the moderators of Wednesday night’s debate on CNBC for their supposedly biased and substance-free questions. They were picking the lowest of low-hanging fruit, going for an easy way to endear themselves to a conservative audience. Texas Senator Ted Cruz probably got the biggest round of applause of the evening when he said, “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media.” And the crowd really went nuts when he added that “every fawning question” asked of the Democratic candidates during their October 13 debate on CNN amounted to, “Which of you is more handsome and why?” After the show, Donald Trump echoed that sentiment, musing that perhaps the Democrats had somehow “negotiated a better deal” with CNN.
Judging by conservative reactions on social media, it’s now become an article of faith that, while the CNBC moderators were out for blood, CNN’s moderators had “lobbed softball questions” at the Democrats. After Wednesday’s debate, Ben Carson’s campaign called for a “revolt” against… someone, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Prebius was forced to issue a statement that read: “The performance by the CNBC moderators was extremely disappointing and did a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters.”
But it’s not true that the Democrats were given an easy ride. Here’s the very first question Anderson Cooper posed to Hillary Clinton during the Democratic debate:
“Secretary Clinton, I want to start with you. Plenty of politicians evolve on issues, but even some Democrats believe you change your positions based on political expediency.
“You were against same-sex marriage. Now you’re for it. You defended President Obama’s immigration policies. Now you say they’re too harsh. You supported his trade deal dozen of times. You even called it the ‘gold standard.’ Now, suddenly, last week, you’re against it.
“Will you say anything to get elected?”
As questions go, that was more dagger than softball. After Clinton claimed that her positions had been consistent, Cooper followed up:
“Secretary Clinton, though, with all due respect, the question is really about political expediency. Just in July, New Hampshire, you told the crowd you’d, quote, ‘take a back seat to no one when it comes to progressive values.’
“Last month in Ohio, you said you plead guilty to, quote, ‘being kind of moderate and center.’ Do you change your political identity based on who you’re talking to?”
Later, Cooper asked her about e-mail-gate: “For the last eight months, you haven’t been able to put this issue behind you. You dismissed it; you joked about it; you called it a mistake. What does that say about your ability to handle far more challenging crises as president?”
Contrast that with the question that set off Ted Cruz’s rant:
“Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear of—another Washington-created crisis is on the way.