Happy Hour Debate (in alphabetical order)
The third debate between Republican candidates for president was held on October 28, 2015 at the Coors Event Center, a building on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder. Hosted by CNBC, it was managed by moderators John Harwood, Becky Quick, and Carl Quintanilla, with question contributions by Jim Cramer, Rick Cantanelli, and Sharon Epperson. The event carried the title “Your Money, Your Vote”, as a promise that questioning would heavily favor financial issues such as government spending of tax revenues. It was similar to previous debates in that it was attended by the 10 top-polling Republican contenders, with candidates falling below those attending an earlier “happy hour” debate. It was different in that this time, erstwhile runaway leader Donald Trump was feeling the pressure from an encroaching Dr Ben Carson, whose strengthening poll numbers were beginning to challenge Trump's dominance. It was also an important night for one-time shoo-in Jeb Bush, who needed a boost to make up for dwindling support that had recently forced him to scale back his campaign.
There was considerable controversy over the format of the event. With previous debates having proven to be viewership powerhouses, CNBC was eager to allow this one two hours of arguing time, plus lucrative commercials, and to forbid candidates from making opening and closing statements in favor of providing more time for ratings-grabbing mudslinging. Those slated to participate balked at the proposed rules, and despite their heating rivalry, Donald Trump and Ben Carson went so far as to join forces in threatening to boycott the event if it were not limited to two hours including commercials with a promise of opening and closing statements for everyone. Faced with the potential disaster of losing the two GOP frontrunners, CNBC quickly folded, agreeing to the terms.
Moderators' questions were especially pointed tonight as compared with previous debates, at times seeming designed to encourage bickering among the candidates by reminding one of negative comments made about him or her by another and soliciting a response. More than once, moderators themselves harshly prodded candidates with almost prosecutorial lines of questioning. Ben Carson found himself in the crosshairs of moderator Carl Quintanilla, who demanded to know why Carson was involved with disgraced pharmaceutical company Mannatech, which had paid millions to settle a lawsuit for deceptive marketing practices. Quintanilla specifically mentioned images of Carson on the web that had been used to advertise for the drug company. Carson retorted that he had no involvement with the firm beyond having done paid speeches, and that any use of his image to promote them was done without his permission. When Quintanilla persisted, asking whether the incident nevertheless reflected poorly on Carson's integrity in some way, the audience loudly booed the moderator, who chuckled nervously in response. Smiling, Carson simply stated, “They know,” and received roaring applause.
Never one prone to accusations of low charisma in the past, Florida Senator Marco Rubio was in rare form tonight as well. When one question directed his attention to a Sun Sentinel article criticizing him for missing a number of votes in the Senate due to his presidential campaign, Rubio defended himself by leveling accusations of bias against the publication in particular and the news media in general, pointing out many Democratic Senators – including Hillary Clinton and John Kerry – who had also missed votes when running for president yet received no condemnation and often even enjoyed endorsements from the Sun Sentinel. Once again, the audience loudly applauded, and repeated their support of Rubio for the rest of the debate whenever he answered concerns about his voting record or criticized the media.
Prevailing sentiment towards the evening's questions was generally cold, from the audience and candidates alike. Several contenders called out the moderators for baiting fights or being needlessly aggressive. At one point, Chris Christie became fed up with relentless interruptions from John Harwood, who repeatedly cut off the New Jersey governor to request more specific answers. Annoyed, Christie asked whether he should respond at all or if Harwood would like to answer his own question himself. “I gotta tell you, I'm from New Jersey,” Christie then said. “Even in New Jersey, what you're doing is called rude.” At another time during the evening, Donald Trump stared down the moderators and called their questions “nasty and ridiculous”.
Nevertheless, there was much substantive dialogue about real political issues, including income inequality, the pay gap between men and women, and legalized marijuana. As the debate's title promised, government spending was also addressed, with Medicare and Social Security being heavily discussed. A bit of fun was had towards the end when a question asked whether Fantasy Football should be legally considered gambling – Jeb Bush boasted about his own success in playing the game, while Chris Christie wondered why they were talking about this in a world where ISIS and al Qaeda plot attacks against the US.
The evening concluded with hard-won closing statements for each candidate. Highlights included Carly Fiorina calling herself “Hillary Clinton's worst nightmare” should she receive the GOP's nomination, Ben Carson thanking his opponents for being civil and “not falling for the traps” (in a not-so-subtle jab at the moderators' style of questioning), and Donald Trump crediting himself as a great negotiator for succeeding (with Carson's help, and Trump gave his rival full accolades) in forcing CNBC to limit the debate to 2 hours. According to Trump, the reason he did this was simple.
“So we could all get the hell out of here,” The Donald said.