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CNN commentators weigh in on winners and losers in CNBC debate

Candidates drew big applause for bashing media. Cruz and Rubio had strong showings

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CNN Opinion asked a range of contributors for their take on the CNBC debate of Republican presidential candidates. Who were the winners and losers? The opinions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of the authors.

S.E. Cupp: Marco Rubio wins this round

In this GOP debate, Marco Rubio proved he can take whatever attacks come his way, whether legitimate or not, and turn them into a win. Jeb Bush proved he has horrible political timing, attacking Rubio on his voting record seconds after he’d earned a huge applause line defending it.

Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz also had good nights. Fiorina offering an unflappable defense yet again on her record at HP, and Cruz blasting the debate moderators for their “cage match” questions.

Donald Trump seemed invisible again. It’s becoming more clear that his rallies are where his energy is at, not debates. And Ben Carson failed to step up to his frontrunner status. When Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina answer a question about pharmaceutical regulations better than the doctor can, I think it’s clear he can’t hang on.

S.E. Cupp is the author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity,” co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right” and a columnist at the New York Daily News.

Errol Louis: Trump and Carson sit on their leads

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

The third Republican presidential debate will do little to disturb a fairly stable pattern reflected in polls that place the two frontrunners, Ben Carson and Donald Trump, far ahead of the other dozen candidates. Neither Carson nor Trump lost any ground, choosing to quietly sit on their leads.

Their standing, and their laid-back performance reflect the reality that the Republican contest, especially in the early states, has candidates clustered in different lanes. Trump and Carson are in the “non-politician lane,” channeling the intense anger of many conservative voters toward politicians in general and Washington in particular. There’s little history of such complete outsiders making it to the White House, but for now Trump and Carson, while jockeying for the top spot in Iowa, are secure in their lane with less than 100 days to go before the Iowa caucuses.

Opinion: The power of Carson’s humility

The real debate action was in the “establishment career politician” lane, where Marco Rubio made the greatest positive impression, chastising the media for alleged anti-Republican bias and calmly but forcefully pushing back when ex-Gov. Jeb Bush attacked him for missing Senate votes.

“The Democrats have the greatest super PAC – it’s called the mainstream media,” Rubio said to thunderous applause. And when debate moderators asked Rubio about his poor voting record, Rubio answered by reeling off statistics suggesting that presidential candidates of both parties – including John Kerry, John McCain and Barack Obama – missed most of their Senate votes while campaigning for the White House.

That wasn’t good enough for Bush. “This was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” he said pointedly.

And Rubio had an answer ready: “I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s voting record. Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”

And that was pretty much the last we heard from Bush for the night, making the debate a lost opportunity for him to recapture his long-lost position at the front of the pack among the establishment candidates seeking to mount a serious challenge to the popularity of Carson and Trump.

Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel.

Crystal Wright: Polls will keep going crazy

Crystal Wright
Courtesy Crystal Wright
Crystal Wright

As the old saying goes: Third time’s a charm – especially for the Republican presidential debates. From the onset, the candidates took the gloves off and came out swinging – for blood and poll numbers. And Sen. Ted Cruz called out CNBC moderators for their unabashedly biased efforts to tear down the GOP candidates.

CNBC’s John Harwood asked if Trump was just “a comic book” candidate as his critics charged, and asked Trump to defend his immigration plan. Attacking his comic book question, Trump forcefully defended his plan to deport illegal immigration, build a wall and yes, make Mexico pay for it. After Trump lit the match, things heated up between the candidates and their questioners.

Cruz called out CNBC on what appeared to be the network’s attempt to discredit the GOP candidates with ridiculous questions designed to get them quarreling, not talking about the issues. They were asked what their biggest weaknesses were, and whether they were good at math. Sen. Marco Rubio blasted the moderators for helping out the Democrat presidential candidates. “Hillary has a Super PAC helping her out: the mainstream media.” And he’s right.

Referencing Trump, Gov. John Kasich said: “We cannot elect somebody that doesn’t know how to do the job. You have got to pick somebody who has experience, somebody that has the know-how, the discipline,” also noting Trump’s pledge to deport illegal immigrants. Trump reminded the audience about Kasich’s time with failed bank Lehman Brothers.

Carl Quintanilla, another CNBC moderator, asked Sen. Marco Rubio why he’s missed so many votes in the Senate and doesn’t like his job anymore. Instead of answering the question, Rubio responded that America is in trouble and he’s not going to wait in line for his turn. Quintanilla pressed him further and asked him if he thinks he should resign as the Florida Sun-Sentinel called for in an editorial.

Responding that President Barack Obama and John Kerry did the same thing, Rubio refused