"The questions that have been asked so far in this debate," Sen. Ted Cruz lectured Wednesday night in Boulder, Colorado, "illustrate why the American people don't trust the media."
The audience cheered at the pushback, and the trio of CNBC moderators shifted uncomfortably in their seats as the presidential candidate shamed them for their questions. But Cruz was not done – there was more lecturing to come, and more cheering from the audience, and other GOP candidates pushed back against the biased, gotcha questions as the night wore on.
"Even in New Jersey, what you're doing is rude," Gov. Chris Christie told CNBC reporter John Harwood at one point.
The other moderators were Becky Quick and Carl Quintanilla.
Before the first question was asked, GOP candidates and their camps had been warned about what was coming, in particular from Harwood, from media watchdog Media Research Center.
"Watch for Shenanigans!" warned the Tuesday story from MRC, written by Geoffrey Dickens.
Internet bloggers using Twitter noted that Harwood had written anti-Republican and pro-Democrat stories – and tweeted the stories and their warnings to RNC chairman Reince Priebus.
And Harwood did not disappoint. He tried to trap Sen. Marco Rubio about his tax plan but Rubio pointed out that Harwood had raised the issue two weeks ago and had to correct himself. Harwood denied that had happened but it did, meaning a moderator tried to trick a candidate and then lied about it.
Quintanilla's question to Cruz – which prompted Cruz's crowd-pleasing lecture – was about the debt ceiling. But the moderator suggested that Cruz was unwilling to go along with a bipartisan effort that would prevent a government shutdown and "calm" Wall Street.
"Does your opposition to it show you're that not the kind of problem solver American voters want?" Quintanilla asked Cruz.
The next two and a half minutes of blistering response, which praised the stage of candidates, and dinged both the Democrat candidates and the media, was highlighted by conservative media outlets as the debate's key moment.
"This is not a cage match," Cruz said. "And if 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. Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues people care about.”
"I’ve watched a lot of debates in which liberal media bias has been evident," columnist John Fund wrote on National Review Online. "But I have never seen it unite Republican presidential candidates like it did last night."
Well-known pollster Frank Luntz tweeted during Cruz's exchange with Quintanilla that his focus group was recording its best-ever scores for a candidate.
Fund praised Cruz from his comments and pointed out that Christie, Rubio, and Donald Trump also took turns at knocking the moderators and their questions.
“The audience roared its disdain for these so-called 'journalists,' and all of America heard it,” MRC president Brent Bozell said after the debate.
Some conservatives also knocked Priebus for allowing the debate to take place – and mocked him for complaining about the moderators afterward.
Ed Meese, the former U.S. attorney general, said whoever selected the moderators "should be fired and the RNC leaders who allowed it should be condemned."