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What CNBC’s John Harwood Really Thought of the GOP Debate

Debate moderators Carl Quintanilla, left, Becky Quick, center, and John Harwood appear during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo.  (AP)
Debate moderators Carl Quintanilla, left, Becky Quick, center, and John Harwood appear during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (AP)
This article is more than 3 years old.

CNBC’s Chief Washington correspondent, John Harwood, joined On Point with Tom Ashbrook this week to discuss the week in the news, and offered his take on the shower of criticism he and his fellow Presidential debate moderators Carl Quintanilla and Becky Quick have received for their questions during the Wednesday, October 28th Republican gathering in Boulder, CO. Below are some excerpts from our conversation with Harwood. Listen to the full audio at our site.


TOM ASHBROOK: (…) The candidates were in the hot seat. You guys were on the hot seat. What do you make of this angle- and there’s more to it- of the big debate….

JOHN HARWOOD: Well, it was a very smart play by Ted Cruz to come back at us like that. In fact, the question that I posed to Donald Trump, and the question that my colleague posed to Ted Cruz were about substantive policy. But, look the media is not popular in the Republican party. You’ve got a party that is in turmoil, it’s a very fluid race. And the underlying source of the anger and the energy in that party that we felt in that debate is the same thing that resulted in the Speakership of Paul Ryan. It required the resignation of Speaker John Boehner simply to keep the government open and prevent having a debt crisis. That’s the nature of this Republican party and in this current environment, it’s not surprising that they would come back and redirect the heat to us.

TA: Did you go a bridge too far though, John, in asking Trump if his is a comic book version of a presidential campaign? I mean, I get the tang of that question. Was it too much?

JH: No. Look, there is nobody- including the candidates on that stage- the day before John Kasich had given a speech and he said, "We’ve got somebody who’s promising to send 10 or 11 million people out of the country. That is just crazy. That is a fantasy."

There is no one on that stage who actually believes that you can send those 11 million people out of the country. There is no economist who believes that you can cut taxes 10 trillion dollars without increasing the deficit. It is simply a set of discussions that is not connected to the real world we live in. And I felt and feel at this moment that it’s appropriate to pose that to Donald Trump in that way.

(…) On the Christie thing- let me explain what actually happened in that moment. Chris Christie is one of the few people in the Republican party among leading candidates who’s willing to say climate change is undeniable, humans contribute to it, and we need to do something about it. So, I asked him a simple straight question about what should we do? He said “Well, here’s what we shouldn’t do…” and he attacked Hillary Clinton.

The reason he did that was the dynamics in that room are that if you’re a Republican who believes in global warming, you want to talk about that during the general election you don’t  want to talk about it in a room of Republicans partisans during the primary campaign. But he said what “We need to do is expand alternative energy.” And my comeback to him, which he didn’t like, was trying to clarify who is the “we”. Was he talking about private business? Or was he talking about government. And I’m sorry- if it’s not the role of the moderator to clarify for viewers what the candidate is talking about, I don’t know what is.

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