The media was the message for the crowd gathered at a Bloomington bar to watch the third Republican presidential candidate debate.
The group, brought together by the Young Republicans affiliate of the state party, appeared mixed on their favorite candidates — but completely unified in their agreement that the CNBC broadcast from Boulder, CO, was designed to be more of a glib joust than an exchange of ideas.
“I love what Ted Cruz said about the media,” said Susan Tangen of Inver Grove Heights. “That was really notable. I mean, I think the questions … just were not very smart questions.”
Cruz, who had one of the better showings of the evening, deftly parodied the moderators’ line of questioning. “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,’” he said. “How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?”
The CNBC moderators did try to probe on some substance; they questioned how the Carson and Rubio flat tax plans could result in increasing revenue. They tried to get Sen. Rand Paul to explain how raising the age for Medicare eligibility would make the program more sustainable. They wanted Ohio Gov. Kasich to repeat his criticisms of Trump’s and Carson’s tax cut proposals, which Kasich did, calling them “empty promises.”
But while the candidates attempted to craft arcane policy details into sound bites, the more quotable comments overshadowed — particularly Rubio’s successful deflection of a question about political action committees. “The Democrats have the ultimate Super PAC,” he said. “It’s called the mainstream media.”
The group in Bloomington, like the crowd in Boulder, responded with applause, as they did when New Jersey Gov. Christie charged at a question about regulating fantasy football. “We have $19 trillion in debt, we have people out of work, we have ISIS and Al Qaeda attacking us and we’re talking about fantasy football,” he thundered.
Amy from Minneapolis, who declined to give her last name, sympathized with the candidates’ frustrations, but said the debates are giving the public what it’s asking for.
“People like to see, especially when you’re watching something on TV, you want to see a little drama, you want to see a little laughter, comedy,” she said. “No matter what your political beliefs are, you’re getting a little bit of what society likes to feed people, especially Americans, and we’re all eating it up.”