Despite the incredibly biased performance of the moderators of CNBC’s Republican presidential debate, on Thursday’s NBC Today, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd portrayed his business network colleagues as victims of a GOP plot: “Look, in many ways this was a premeditated attack. There had been some leaked ideas that, you know, beforehand, they were going to go after the moderators and say, ‘Hey, the Democrats didn't get questions like this,’ and they determined this before the debate even started.”
Todd made that accusation in response to co-host Savannah Guthrie observing: “...the media was the opponent not on the stage right with them but, clearly, a big part of this debate. Fairly or unfairly, this is a winning strategy for candidates.”
Seconds earlier, MSNBC political analyst and Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace told fellow co-host Matt Lauer that Texas Senator Ted Cruz was the winner of the debate “because of his indictment of the moderators. And Republicans are desperate for someone who stands up against what they feel is a rigged system.”
At the top of the broadcast, Guthrie proclaimed: “Free-for-all! The Republican presidential debate gets heated in a hurry. Candidates taking repeated shots at the moderators and the media.”
In a report that followed, correspondent Peter Alexander teed up a series of candidate soundbites by noting: “The candidates, cheered on by the Colorado crowd, were united in their contempt for the moderators and the media.”
Here is a full transcript of the October 29 panel discussion with Todd and Wallace:
7:08 AM ET
MATT LAUER: Let us bring in Chuck Todd, NBC’s political director and moderator of Meet the Press, and Nicolle Wallace, an MSNBC analyst and former White House communications director for President George W. Bush. Good morning my sleepy friends, let's just start with a real quick, one second, who won?
CHUCK TODD: Rubio.
LAUER: Who won?
NICOLLE WALLACE: Ted Cruz.
LAUER: Okay. Timing, though. Timing seemed to be the biggest player in the room last night. Timing that Donald Trump lost his national lead, he was subdued. Timing that Ben Carson took the national lead, he didn't want to mess up. And timing that Jeb Bush seems to realize his chances are slipping away.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: GOP Candidates Clash in Colorado; Who Were Last Night’s Winners & Losers?]
WALLACE: Yeah, Jeb Bush didn't have the kind of night that even his campaign acknowledged he needed to have. And after the debate, Jeb Bush gave an interview where he said, “I'm not a performer.” And unfortunately for him and all the people who admire the way he governs, you have to become a performer to win the job.
GUTHRIE: It was not a good night for Jeb Bush, and now people are saying, how much longer will he stay in the race? His people are constantly saying, “We're in it through the early states. We have the money, we have the organization.” But is there kind of, for lack of a better term, a death watch for the Jeb Bush campaign right now?
TODD: Can I tell you, last night in Boulder, in that spin room, it felt like a wake. Other campaign operatives from other campaigns were not gloating about this, they were like, “Oh, my God. Is Jeb not going to actually make it to the starting line?” That was this air in there. Look, he’s $100 million in that super-pac, he’s got that safety net. Bushs don’t get out. The first President Bush, who was getting whipped in the primaries didn't get out until May. This is – there’s no way –
WALLACE: The second George Bush got whipped by McCain by 19 points in New Hampshire, he didn't get out.
TODD: That’s right. Yeah, this is not – this guy’s not getting out. That said, they're going to have to throw something to the wolves. He’s gonna have to retool publicly, do something do his campaign to shake it up.
LAUER: Nicolle, the people on the side of the stage there, did anybody do or say anything, anyone like Kasich or Christie or Fiorina, that’s gonna move their numbers?
WALLACE: Well, I thought Christie had a great moment. And Christie’s interesting, because at every debate he has strung together sort of a magical moment in the debate, but it's not showing up in polls. You know, voters, Republican voters, liked what they saw out of Trump. I know he was subdued, but he had a little bit of the town hall demeanor, where he seemed to be holding back a little bit and only engaging where he had to. But I said Cruz was the winner. Cruz was the winner because of his indictment of the moderators. And Republicans are desperate for someone who stands up against what they feel is a rigged system.
GUTHRIE: And that's sort of the elephant in the room that we haven't talked about because that was – the media was the opponent not on the stage right with them but, clearly, a big part of this debate. Fairly or unfairly, this is a winning strategy for candidates.
TODD: Well, it is. And Cruz captured the moment better than anybody. Look, in many ways this was a premeditated attack. There had been some leaked ideas that, you know, beforehand, they were going to go after the moderators and say, “Hey, the Democrats didn't get questions like this,” and they determined this before the debate even started.
But boy, Cruz captured the moment. And he actually came across as magnanimous. He’s the guy that supposedly everybody secretly doesn't like, he was the guy that defended everybody on that stage. Maybe an important moment for him, if he does what he's trying to do, which is vacuum up Trump and Carson's support if, not when, in my book, but if they falter.
LAUER: Chuck Todd, Nicolle Wallace. Guys, thank you very much. By the way, Jeb Bush will be Chuck's guest this Sunday morning on Meet the Press.