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Presidential Horse Race 2016: CNBC Debate fallout -- Is it time for Jeb to go?

It didn’t take long for the candidates to expand on their displeasure stemming from Wednesday night’s CNBC Republican debate. In fact, Ben Carson’s people demanded changes going forward almost immediately after the program finished.

Byron York of the Washington Examiner reports, “In an interview shortly after the debate, Barry Bennett, manager of the Ben Carson campaign, called the session here in Colorado ‘unfair to everyone’ and said the current debate structure should not remain in place.
Jeb Bush Marco Rubio
“‘I think the families need to get together here, because these debates as structured by the RNC are not helping the party,’ Bennett said. ‘There's not enough time to talk about your plans, there's no presentation. It's just a slugfest. All we do is change moderators. And the trendline is horrific. So I think there needs to be wholesale change here.’”

Carson used his closing statement on Wednesday to thank his fellow candidates for being civil and concluded that we should never sacrifice our American values for political correctness (he addressed PC at another point in the debate, too). It was likely a jab at the moderators, who certainly deserved the rebuke.

Several of the candidates lashed out at the moderators during the debate, with Ted Cruz’s appropriately worded “cage match” grievance being the most memorable.

In addition to the shrill tone of the moderators, Carson believes the format of the debates themselves is to blame for their poor quality because candidates have little time to explain their positions on issues.

Several of the campaigns are in talks concerning potentially banding together to demand that the Republican National Committee address their concerns. With less than two weeks to go until the next debate on November 10, however, there’s little time to get things turned around.

As I’ve said before, after having covered dozens of presidential debates, the job of the moderators is to force candidates to explain their differences with the others. But Cruz was right to speak out – Wednesday had devolved into a mud wrestling scrum with the questions designed strictly to evoke visceral responses directed at other candidates.

John Harwood’s insinuation that Trump’s campaign was reminiscent of a comic book was way over the top.

Candidates should face tough questions, but they don’t have to be dehumanized in the process. It will be interesting to see how the RNC handles the situation.

Viewership down considerably for CNBC debate

Perhaps it was because of the negative tone of the program or maybe it’s because CNBC isn’t a channel that people watch very much, but viewership of the third Republican debate dropped significantly from last month’s CNN event.

Despite the lower numbers, the broadcast still represented a big ratings success for CNBC.

Hadas Gold of Politico reports, “The third GOP presidential primary debate, hosted by CNBC attracted 14 million viewers, the network announced, further cementing this cycle's presidential debates as ratings gold for television.

“It's a ratings record for CNBC, making it the most watched night in the network's history…

(Note: The debate was almost four times higher than the network’s previous record.)

“But the 14 million puts CNBC's debate well below the ratings from Fox News' and CNN's GOP debates which brought in 24 million viewers and 23 million viewers respectively, both ratings records for the networks and for a non-sports cable event.”

Americans are clearly still interested in what the Republicans have to say and it’s not just because Donald Trump is a reality star. The program was up against the World Series on a major network – and beat it. That’s powerful stuff, especially since the New York Mets are in the Series, a major market team.

The cable networks clearly see presidential debates as a chance to earn big bucks, just as Donald Trump mentioned during the debate. Giving away some of the advertising bounty might be part of the changes the candidates will demand.

I wonder how the Democrats will do (in terms of viewership) in their next debate considering they’re down to three candidates without the possibility of getting more. Talk about boring.

Maybe the Republicans could send over Lindsey Graham to throw out some funny lines and talk about growing up in his dad’s bar. At least then it might be entertaining.

Jeb’s no longer useful, so it’s time for him to go

While there’s some disagreement among observers on who “won” the CNBC debate, there’s virtual unanimity on who lost – Jeb Bush.

Bush’s early attack on Marco Rubio’s voting record was smacked right back at him by his former protégé and Jeb never recovered. He disappeared for a large segment of the program and then gave a stupid answer when asked about regulating fantasy football.

To his credit, Bush was just answering the question given him. But there’s a growing feeling out there that Jeb’s time has passed. How many more embarrassments is it going to take?

Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller writes, “Yogi Berra once famously said something to the effect of: ‘If people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s gonna stop ’em.’

“Bush has the same fundamental problem: If nobody wants to vote for you, there’s nothing you can do to stop them. No amount of money can change the fact that Bush doesn’t seem to have a base of support. Aside from people being paid by him, I don’t know many enthusiastic Bush supporters.”

I myself know a lot of conservatives and Republicans. I can’t think of a single friend or acquaintance who would even consider voting for Jeb. People are still fired up over George W.’s conservative apostasies and they’re not about to lay them aside to support his brother.

For his part, Jeb shows no signs of giving up. In fact, he’s even doubling down on his Rubio attacks.

Ed Morrissey of Hot Air revealed Jeb’s latest jabs at the Florida Senator. It’s almost kind of sad.

(Note: Jeb does have one supporter who agrees Marco Rubio should resign from the Senate – Harry Reid.)

For what it’s worth, Morrissey thinks the field should be narrowed to six, those being “Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Christie, and Fiorina. All of them add substance and style to the mix onstage and six people is about the maximum manageable for substantive discussions on policy.

“Christie and Fiorina are not likely to contend for the top spot, but they are tough onstage and have remained their authentic selves throughout the contest. Getting down to six now gives us a good potential for a reshuffling of the pack and a further narrowing as the primaries approach.”

I don’t see any of the candidates, including Jeb, dropping out before January. The social conservative lower-tier competitors probably still believe they can catch fire in Iowa. The fact the Hawkeye State has produced surprise winners the past couple cycles gives them hope (warranted or not).

It may sound strange, but one of Jeb’s motivations for staying in the race could be loyalty to his campaign staff. He mentioned in the Politico story that he’s got an “extraordinary team” in New Hampshire. If he cuts bait now, those folks are out of a job.

Though it’s true John Kasich might be hungry to add some more establishment consultants to his side. Just a thought.

If Jeb doesn’t leave, he might be forced out

Finally this week, with all the talk of Jeb leaving the race on his own, there’s also something else to consider – namely, the GOP establishment will openly oppose him to force him out of the race.

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver argues the establishment’s patience is wearing thin and they’ll want to move Jeb out of the way in order to focus on one of the other establishment friendly candidates – Marco Rubio, Chris Christie or even John Kasich.

“But whether it’s Cruz or Trump or Carson ahead, the Republican establishment can’t wait that much longer to get its act together. And the most expedient way to do that may be to kick Bush to the curb.”

And it’s not just Jeb. Many are weary of the field’s large size which includes a bunch of candidates with no perceived chance to win the nomination.

David French of National Review argues, “It’s hard to watch dreams die, and it takes no small amount of integrity and selflessness to follow Scott Walker and Rick Perry’s path – to acknowledge that a small chance of victory isn’t worth the certainty of further division, further campaign confusion, dilution of precious fundraising resources, and yet more debate chaos. Multiple GOP campaigns are on life support. It’s time to start pulling plugs.”

With November just days ahead, it’s close to crunch time. People are getting nervous and impatient. If all of the candidates are still hanging on a month from now, the whispers will turn into roars.

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