Fireworks Fly In Unruly Third GOP Presidential Debate : It's All Politics Marco Rubio had several standout moments while Jeb Bush struggled to snap up speaking time. And for once, Donald Trump seemed to fade into the background at times.

Fireworks Fly In Unruly Third GOP Presidential Debate

Donald Trump (center) makes a point as Marco Rubio (left) and Ben Carson look on during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Mark J. Terrill/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Mark J. Terrill/AP

Donald Trump (center) makes a point as Marco Rubio (left) and Ben Carson look on during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Mark J. Terrill/AP

In a feisty debate in Colorado on Wednesday night, Republican presidential candidates spent almost as much time sniping at the CNBC moderators as they did at each other.

The faceoff was messy and chaotic from the beginning, with candidates trying to jump on others and make their voices heard.

One person who succeeded at that was Marco Rubio. The Florida senator had several standout moments and earned many plaudits from pundits after the debate.

His former mentor, Jeb Bush, didn't fare as well. He needed a standout moment and largely didn't have one. When he attacked Rubio for missing votes in the Senate, Rubio had a quick comeback that was well-received. And Bush, who has been at the top of speaking times in previous debates, ranked ninth in how much he was on the clock.

Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who were center stage and were leading in the polls, largely faded into the background for most of the debate — something unusual for the boisterous billionaire real-estate mogul.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and businesswoman Carly Fiorina also performed well, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie improved as the night went on and got several memorable moments near the end.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich was strong out of the gate with jabs at Trump and Carson, but he largely faded later. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also struggled to stand out.

But someone who took biting criticism as the night went on was CNBC and its moderators Becky Quick, Carl Quintanilla and John Harwood. After the debate, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus blasted the network in a statement, calling their performance and line of questioning "extremely disappointing."

Despite GOP complaints, the economic-focused debate did include extended conversations on the candidates' tax plans, positions on entitlements and other ways they would reform the economy.

Our live blog below has a full recap of all the action. We also curated tweets from across the Web and kept track of each candidate's speaking time. We recapped the four candidates who faced off during the undercard debate earlier in the evening.

10:15 p.m. ET. The candidates closing statements, in short:

Paul: I want to shrink government, and I will stand up to GOP leaders and filibuster the budget Thursday. Christie: Are you fed up with Washington? I'm dead serious about changing it. Cruz: You want someone to stand up in Washington? I've stood up to both Democrats and Republicans. Fiorina: "I may not be your dream candidate, just yet but i can assure you I'm Hillary's worst nightmare." Trump: I'll make America win again. Also, you can thank me for the 2-hour — instead of a 3.5-hour — debate. Rubio: I'm here because of the American Dream, and I'm optimistic about the future of this country. Bush: I'll change the culture of Washington. "We need a unifier, not a cynical divider-in-chief."

10:08 p.m. Carson, who's been very quiet so far, finally gets a question and explains his plan to replace Medicare with individual savings accounts, similar to health savings accounts. He says people would be able to opt in or opt out — and that private-sector solutions are better than government-sector solutions. "How do we use our intellect rather than letting the government utilize their 'intellect'?"

9:57 p.m. Bush gets a question about sports betting and the rise of fantasy betting sites. He boasts he's 7-0 in his own league, but that the type of paid sites should have regulations.

Christie jumps in, and gets a good moment as he's incredulous that this discussion is even happening. "We have ISIS and al-Qaida attacking us, and we're talking about fantasy football?" And he gets another good jab in when the moderators try to interrupt him, shouting back that "even in New Jersey what you're doing would be considered rude."

9:55 p.m. Fiorina is asked whether or not the government should be involved in helping people get 401(k)s. No, she says — and they shouldn't be involved in other things, like setting a minimum wage, either.

9:50 p.m. Trump isn't playing a huge role in this debate, but other candidates are still afraid of offending him — and maybe more importantly, his supporters. Huckabee sidesteps a question about whether or not Trump is qualified to be president — and coyly notes he is wearing a Trump tie. He is more qualified to be president than the Clintons though, Huckabee says, noting he beat them back in Arkansas.

9:48 p.m. Trump — who's been far quieter than usual and more in the background — is asked about guns. He says he'd be OK if his employees were allowed to carry guns, and says he indeed does carry on occasion. "I like to be unpredictable." And says he'd change policy at some of his Trump resorts to allow guns on the premise.

9:40 p.m. The moderators have pretty much lost all control of this debate. Rubio explains his tax plan, to cut taxes on individuals and small businesses, using his dry cleaner as an example who's paying higher taxes than a corporate chain. Cruz again swoops in to push his simplified plan: abolishing the IRS and letting people do their taxes on a postcard. Paul tries to jump in but gets shut down by the moderators. And then the discussion turns to marijuana, which is legal in Colorado. Kasich says he opposes it, and it isn't needed to jumpstart Ohio's economy, which he says is doing just fine.

9:33 p.m. Also, Trump's earlier denial that he had called Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg Rubio's "personal senator" who lobbied him on immigration is, in fact, right there on his own website.

9:25 p.m. Donald Trump goes on a rant against superPACs, noting he's not selling out like his rivals are and is self-funding his campaign (he's actually put in very little money of his own so far). But Rubio seizes a moment and a way to turn it around on Hillary Clinton — who he says has the greatest superPAC ever, "the mainstream media." While many declared she did well last week in the Benghazi hearing, he says she was instead exposed as a liar. He gets a lot of applause.

9:18 p.m. Carson is pressed on some of his corporate board involvement, including one which provided same-sex domestic partner rights. He says he opposes same-sex marriage but that rights are protected in the Constitution, staying opposing gay marriage doesn't make him a "homophobe." "P.C. culture is destroying our nation," he says. When asked about his involvement with a controversial pharmaceutical company, he says he didn't have any involvement even though they used his image as a promotional material. Pressed by the moderators whether that speaks to his vetting process, the crowd starts booing loudly, and Carson has his answer right there.

9:15 p.m. Fiorina showing why she's a good foil for Hillary Clinton: "It is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to be talking about being the first woman president when every policy she wants to has been demonstrably bad for women," arguing job losses under the Obama administration have been far worse for women.

9:10 p.m. Moderator Becky Quick presses Rubio on some of his questionable finances — foreclosures and liquidating retirement accounts. He says those have been discredited, but he has a good response: "I didn't inherit any money. I had to work my way through school" and pay off his student loans. Essentially: I'm just like you. It's a way he's trying to connect with average voters that may resonate better than richer candidates.

9:13 p.m. Kasich, a former House Budget Committee chairman, isn't for the deal House Republicans brokered Wednesday on the budget, dismissing it as the "same old deal" and calling it "silly" and he would stop it if he were president.

9:05 p.m. Carson gets a question about price gouging on medical drugs, but his answer is a bit confusing — he's not for price gouging, but also not more regulation. Christie handles his better, leaning on his background as a prosecutor and says there should be repercussions when that and other laws are broken.

9:00 p.m. Trump gets a question he's faced before — how can you claim to be a good businessman when you've filed for bankruptcy. He again defends his business — not personal — bankruptcies, says he used the laws to his advantage and the companies came out better for it.

8:55 p.m. Lots of differences from Christie and Huckabee on entitlement reform. Christie, which has gone hard for entitlement reform, doesn't back down. But the more populist Huckabee is staunchly against touching them at all. "If this country does not keep its promise to seniors, then what can this country be trusted to keep?" Christie says that money's already been spent though, and that the government should be honest with them and find alternate ways to help them.

8:45 p.m. Less than an hour in, the moderators have pretty much ceded control. Cruz goes for the always popular "attack the media," complaining that this is "not a cage match" and demanding substantive questions. He's cut off, but he probably scored points with his supporters. Also, Cruz just put out his own tax plan just before the debate in a Wall Street Journal op-ed here.

8:43 p.m. Fiorina has had good responses for her business record at Hewlett-Packard. She defends her tenure again very well with effective comebacks.

8:40 p.m. If you were expecting Bush vs. Rubio fireworks, you weren't disappointed. Rubio was prepared for questions as to why he's aiming for the White House after just a term as senator and why he keeps missing votes. He gets applause for hitting a local paper for calling on him to resign after missing votes — when Democrats running for other offices did the same thing and they never called for them to step down.

Bush seems an opening and jumps, though. Noting he's a constituent and former donor of Rubio's, he says, "Marco when you signed up for this, it was a six-year term. And you should be showing up for work."

But Rubio is prepared to fire back, saying Bush never criticized other past GOP candidates when they did the same thing — and the only reason he is now is because he's losing. Point: Rubio.

8:35 p.m Carly Fiorina's tax code idea: Cut it down to three pages (and that doesn't just mean really small type).

8:30 p.m. John Kasich took the gloves off yesterday and he is here, too. Summed up, he's pretty much like, "How am I losing to these guys?" He boasts about how he jumpstarted the Ohio economy and balanced the budget when he was in Congress, but Trump is having none of it. He hits Kasich for having worked at Lehmann brothers in between those stints and says Ohio simply got lucky because it benefited from fracking. Lots of fireworks as Trump insults Kasich as irrelevant since he's polling so low and is at the end of the stage.

8:25 p.m. On the very first question, Trump gets testy with moderator John Harwood when he asks him how in the world all his proposals to build a wall along the Southern border and his tax plan. "Is this a comic book version of a campaign," Harwood asks. Trump is highly offended, naturally, and keeps reiterating that CNBC's Larry Kudlow loves his plan. He's really rather Kudlow be questioning him.

Carson is also pressed by moderator Becky Quick on how his tax plan — which he now says would be closer to a 15 percent flat tax instead of 10 percent — would work. She says the numbers just don't add up and would increase the deficit. He keeps insisting it won't.

8:20 p.m. After a very long delay, we're finally going. The first question to candidates — what's your biggest weakness. Predictably, none of their answers are really saying their weaknesses. Kasich tries to turn it around by listing his opponents' weaknesses. Huckabee, Bush and Rubio all essentially say they're too optimistic. Trump says it's that he holds grudges and doesn't forgive people.

Carson's answer is really puzzling though, essentially admitting he can't see himself as president. That's not the kind of confidence you'd expect from a front-runner, but instead kind of reinforces his low-key nature. Cruz jokes he's just too darn likable — something he's definitely not in the Senate — before doubling down on how he's taken on the establishment.