GOP Owes CNBC a Christmas Bonus

Republican presidential candidates, from left, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, and Chris Chri
Republican presidential candidates, from left, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, and Chris Christie take the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Free suggestion to Republican presidential candidates: Stop whining about last week's CNBC debate and admit it was the best thing that's happened to the party since the Koch brothers.

Instead of complaining about everything except the color of the NBC peacock's feathers, the candidates should acknowledge the heartwarming political truth, which is that CNBC inadvertently gave those candidates the greatest gift any politician can ever receive.

A villain.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that nirvana for a political candidate is being able to divide the world into us and them, "them" being so loathsome that the voter can't wait to identify as one of "us."

While Republicans and conservatives have long painted "the liberal media" as the cause of every problem this side of the Ebola virus, every so often the term starts to feel so abstract it loses some of its impact.

CNBC solved that problem. It let the candidates return to their rallies or the nearest microphone, point to CNBC and the CNBC moderators and say, "See, these are liberals! This is what liberals do! They just want to embarrass us! They don't care about America! They're rude! They're mean!"

They're "them."


Whether or not the CNBC team deserved the tar-and-feathering it has received since the debate, much of the Republican primary base seems to believe it does. So it's been like shooting free throws for the candidates to spend the last week yelling, "More tar! More feathers!"

To a conservative crowd, which is the crowd that votes in Republican primaries, these candidates can now stride in as conquering heroes, empowered survivors of another cowardly ambush by the "liberal media."

And probably not one of them will drop a thank-you note to CNBC.

At the same time, focusing on CNBC has given the candidates the further luxury of not having to get specific about their alternative vision for a debate -- well, beyond Ted Cruz's suggestion that it be moderated by Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Sean Hannity.

All they really want, the candidates seem to generally suggest, is a civil dialogue where everyone calmly lays out his or her views on the issues that matter to real Americans.

And maybe they do. Maybe they want next Tuesday's debate to be a polite exchange of position papers.

What they don't want is for 10 or 12 million viewers to fall asleep or turn off their TV sets, because they've heard this stuff for months already and we have another full year to go.

That's why, even at this stage, what gets a lot more viewers tuned in and talking are sideshow dramas like rubbernecking the wreckage of the Jeb Bush campaign - or just the ongoing tension of verbal improv, which for better or worse is what happened on CNBC.

Even when the wheels were coming off, the evening stayed lively, because almost everyone seemed irritated. That irritation in turn gave the participants endless post-debate material with which to rally the troops. It set up Donald Trump to thump his chest over how he forced the liberal media to heel.

From the perspective of the candidates, what's not to like? Is there a downside anywhere?

Or, as the late W.C. Fields once approximately remarked, "It was a woman who drove me to drink . .. . and I never had the courtesy to thank her."