We’ll begin with what went wrong with the Republican debate in Boulder, Colo., then look at what went wrong with Jeb Bush.
CNBC’s debate moderators have famously come under fire for questions, statements and a tone that were obnoxious. They were. The moderators seemed intent on trivializing the field. When you say, “Candidate A, you have criticized Candidates B and C, turn to them now and tell them why they’re dopes,” you are presenting yourself as the puppet master and them as puppets. They must either attack their colleagues as instructed and look weak, or push back against the moderator in a way open to charges of defensiveness and cynicism. They can’t win. (Though later one did.)
There’s nothing wrong with mischief from debate moderators, but this was dumb mischief, plonkingly obvious in its ideological hostility. What’s your greatest weakness? Should fantasy football be regulated? These questions were merely shallow.
To Jeb Bush: “Governor, the fact that you’re at the fifth lectern tonight shows how far your stock has fallen in this race, despite the big investment your donors have made.” Donald Trump uncorking a taunt, right? No! It was moderator John Harwood! He followed up: “Ben Bernanke, who was appointed Fed chairman by your brother, recently wrote a book in which he said he no longer considers himself a Republican because the Republican Party has given in to know-nothingism. Is that why you’re having a difficult time in this race?”