Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina shined in Thursday's Republican debate. Jeb Bush also participated. But the real winner was host network Fox News, and not only because 16 percent of televisions in the country were tuned in. On the night that its most influential critic, Jon Stewart, was hanging up his wacky reaction face on the Daily Show, Fox News' debate moderators peppered the GOP candidates with tougher questions than Stewart, or the recently purged "talent" at MSNBC, would ever pose to Democrats.
Megyn Kelly challenged Ben Carson on his whether his foreign policy flubs "raised legitimate questions about whether you are ready to president." Jeb Bush was asked why "anybody but Bush" is such a well-received sentiment within the party. Chris Christie was challenged on the shoddy New Jersey economy. Rand Paul was pressed to explain his position on foreign aid to Israel. Donald Trump was forced to defend being Donald Trump. Moderators interrupted and followed up, rather just letting the candidates spout talking points.
Marco Rubio was asked a blunt question about his abortion stance:
Senator Rubio, you favor a rape and incest exception to abortion bans. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York just said yesterday those exceptions are preposterous. He said they discriminate against an entire class of human beings. If you believe that life begins at conception, as you say you do, how do you justify ending a life just because it begins violently, through no fault of the baby?
Scott Walker was asked this strongly worded question about his pro-life views:
Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion, and with 83 percent of the American public in favor of a life exception, are you too out of the mainstream on this issue to win the general election?
It is almost farcical to suggest that a pro-choice equivalent of this question would ever be posed to a prominent Democratic candidate. In those rare instances when it does happen, this is the result. Some of the questions sounded like those that would be asked if MSNBC was hosting, such as this one posed to John Kasich:
Governor Kasich, if you had a son or daughter who was gay or lesbian, how would you explain to them your opposition to same-sex marriage?
Or this one:
Many in the Black Lives Matter movement, and beyond, believe that overly aggressive police officers targeting young African Americans is the civil rights issue of our time. Do you agree? And if so, how do you plan to address it? And if not, why not?
Each candidate was challenged more extensively than Hillary Clinton has been since launching her campaign. The first Democratic debate is scheduled for October 13, hosted by CNN. If the moderators can match the quality and tenor of the questioning on display Thursday night, there might actually be worthwhile debate on the Democratic side. But don't count on it.