Hillary Clinton, the Federal Reserve and high-taxes, weren't the only punching bags taking hits from Republican presidential candidates at the third GOP primary debate: The mainstream media and, in particular, its host and moderator CNBC also got hit throughout the evening.
The attacks started early and were repeated often. They typically received vigorous applause from the audience. The Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, though, captured the theme by interrupting CNBC's Carl Quintanilla by instructing him that the debate was not a cage match. "The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media," Cruz said.
It was a tactic that came in handily for Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Chris Christie -- mostly when they didn't want to answer the moderators' questions.
The technique has a time-honored history. It served Newt Gingrich well in the 2012 Republican South Carolina primary after he criticized the "destructive, vicious and negative nature" of the news media when CNN host John King asked him to address a story about his marital infidelity.
Turning against the media provided another plus for the debaters: it gave them a common enemy to unite a fractious and divisive primary fight.
Cruz continued the charge, taking issue with John Harwood's description of the real estate billionaire's plan as a "comic book version of a presidential campaign." That was after Harwood described Trump's plan to cut taxes by $10 trillion without increasing the deficit, building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and promising to send 11 million people out of the country.
Trump, in turn, piled on Harwood, after former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said he believed Trump was a good man. Harwood questioned whether the New York real estate mogul had the "moral authority" to unite the country. "Such a nasty question, but, thank you, governor," Trump responded.
After the debate was over, Trump said the Republicans were treated in a more hostile manner than the Democratic candidates during their CNN debate on Oct. 13, arguing that Hillary received "much softer" questions.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie interrupted a question about whether the federal government should treat daily fantasy sports as a form of gambling with exasperation: "Carl, are we really talking about getting the government involved in fantasy football," Christie yelled. "Wait a second we have $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us. And we're talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?"
Trump also had a testy exchange with CNBC host Becky Quick over the issue of immigration and the number of skilled H1B worker visas the U.S. accepts, after she said the businessman had been critical of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's efforts to increase the number of workers admitted under the program. Trump claimed the contrary, saying, "I don't know [where it came from]. You people write this stuff."
However, Quick pulled out a reference in Trump's immigration plan that attacked Marco Rubio for supporting Mark Zuckerberg's H1B worker efforts.
But Florida Senator Marco Rubio hearkened back to the standby for Republican candidates when he declared, "Democrats have the ultimate Super-PAC -- it's called the mainstream media."
That, along with all the other moments, was the occasion of much applause.