BOULDER, Colo. (Christian Examiner) – The Republican Party's third presidential debate was light on cultural issues and heavy on discussions about economic policy, although the story of the night may have been the candidates' challenging of the moderators' questions.
The tone for the free-wheeling debate was set early when CNBC's John Harwood tossed a question to Donald Trump.
"You've done very well in this campaign so far by promising to build a wall and make another country pay for it [and then] send 11 million people out of the country," Harwood said. "Cut taxes $10 trillion without increasing the deficit. And make Americans better off because your greatness would replace the stupidity and incompetence of others. Let's be honest. Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?"
Trump challenged the fairness of the question, but seconds later, Harwood continued: "I have talked to economic advisers who have served presidents of both parties. They said that you have as [good of a] chance of cutting taxes that much without increasing the deficit as you would of flying away from that podium by flapping your arms."
Trump responded by saying CNBC's own Larry Kudlow said he liked Trump's tax plan.
"We're reducing [the corporate tax rate] to 15 percent," Trump said. "We're bringing corporate taxes down, bringing money back in. ... We have $2.5 trillion outside of the United States which we want to bring back in."
CNBC's Rebecca Quick wasn't as combative to candidate Ben Carson in asking about his tax plan but still told him, "I've had a really tough time trying to make the math work on this."
Later, when candidate Carly Fiorina said she wanted to reduce a 70,000-page tax code, NBC's Carl Quintanilla asked, "You want to bring 70,000 pages to three?"
"That's right, three pages," she answered.
Quintanilla challenged her, "Is that using really small type?"
When a question was posted next to Sen. Ted Cruz, he turned on the moderators.
"The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media," he said to loud applause. "This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions – 'Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?' 'Ben Carson, can you do math?' 'John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?' 'Marco Rubio, why don't you resign?' 'Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?'
"How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?"
Cruz said there was a dramatic contrast with the Democratic debate, where he joked that the media was "fawning" and asking questions such as, "Which of you is more handsome and why?"
Rubio later said that Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has her own "super PAC helping her out" – the "American mainstream media."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus went to Twitter to blast the moderators.
"CNBC should be ashamed of how this debate was handled," he wrote. He added in another Tweet, "In spite of the moderators, I'm proud of our team for standing up against the improper and unprofessional display put on by CNBC."
The debate included one question on homosexuality, when Quintanilla asked Carson why he would serve on Costco's board of directors when they have policies that "seem to run counter to your views on homosexuality." Carson resigned from the board before running for president.
Quintanilla said one group had called the company the top "gay friendly brand in America."
"Obviously, you don't understand my views on homosexuality," Carson said. "I believe that our Constitution protects everybody, regardless of their sexual orientation or any other aspect. I also believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. And there is no reason that you can't be perfectly fair to the gay community. They shouldn't automatically assume that because you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman that you are a homophobe.
"This is one of the myths that the left perpetrates on our society, and this is how they frighten people and get people to shut up," Carson added. "You know, that's what the PC culture is all about, and it's destroying this nation. The fact of the matter is we the American people are not each other's enemies, and it's those people who are trying to divide us who are the enemies. And we need to make that very clear to everybody."
The lone question about drugs went to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who was asked if he favored marijuana legalization as a tax revenue stream. Kasich indicated he did not.
"Sending mixed signals to kids about drugs is a disaster," he said. "Drugs is one of the greatest scourge in this country, and I spent five years of my administration working with my team to do a whole sort of things to try to reign in the problem of overdoses."