WASHINGTON — For Republican students watching Wednesday night’s GOP debate around the country, from dorm rooms, watch parties and through Snapchat stories, it was hard to ignore the back and forth between the candidates and moderators.
Ten candidates gathered for the third presidential debate, this time in Boulder, Colo., along with the four candidates who participated in another “happy hour” pre-debate.
Some students said they hoped the face-off, hosted at Colorado University in Boulder, was an opportunity for conversation about unemployment, debt and other issues affecting many college goers. But as campus Republicans tuned in to watch the presidential contenders battle it out, many were surprised that the CNBC moderators and their questions seemed to take the spotlight.
“The consistent suppression of the candidates by the moderators was something that stood out to me right off the bat,” said Mary Gainey, a 20-year-old May graduate from Carroll University in Wisconsin. “The moderators seem to want more camera time directed towards themselves, yet this is the Republican debate after all.”
It was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz who first questioned the moderator’s bias, accusing them of pinning the Republican candidates against each other. He cited what he called “fawning questions” raised in the Democratic debate.
“This is not a cage match,” Cruz said. “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 people care about?”
Many of the students who were either current or former members of their campuses’ College Republican chapters were worried that the moderators questions — and the subsequent attacks — distracted from the substance in the debate. Cade Marsh, a senior at Palm Beach Atlantic University and executive director of the Florida Federation of College Republicans, said “it’s really unfortunate that a lauded media outlet — attempting to connect with a voter bloc that’s increasingly turned off by such antics — further disenfranchises them.”
Later in the debate, Gov. Chris Christie chimed in with a feisty comment about the moderator’s questions about fantasy football. He noted there were no questions about the United States nearly $19 trillion debt, unemployment or concerns about threats from the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.
“Fantasy football doesn’t equal youth engagement, CNBC,” said Kasha Nielson, a fourth year at the University of Virginia and chairwoman of the Virginia College Republicans. “Having a job and low taxes are issues affecting students.”
Blake Glinn, a 19-year-old sophomore College Republican at the Michigan State University, agreed. He said he wanted to watch the debate to “understand what the future of our country looks like when we graduate and enter the workforce.”
“I did not think this debate was set up in the best interests of the American people,” Glinn said. “The moderation did not allow for a healthy discussion that would allow voters insight to the candidates.”
Autumn Grady, a 19-year-old sophomore at Carroll University, said she was impressed with the candidates ability to limit conflict on the stage, regardless of the questions that were asked.
“In fact, when given the opportunity to insult Trumps moral judgment, Huckabee took the opportunity to compliment Trump and say he would be better in Washington than Hillary, any day,” Grady added.
And some were quick to point out that the presidential hopefuls took the opportunity to band together against the media. Ian Andrews, a 19-year-old sophomore member of CU Boulder College Republicans called it a “unifying moment for the Republican Party.”