A Tea Party Hero Is Moderating The Next GOP Debate

by Seth Millstein

The 2016 election is kicking into gear: On Oct. 28, two weeks after the first Democratic primary debate, the Republican Party will hold its third GOP forum of the campaign in Colorado. CNBC is hosting this time, and while there’s some uncertainty about who will participate and what the format will be, we do know who will moderate the next GOP debate.

The main moderators will be Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick, and John Harwood, who will be joined by Rick Santelli, Sharon Epperson, and Jim Cramer in secondary roles. Unless you’re a devoted CNBC viewer, those names might not sound familiar; Quintanilla, Quick, and Cramer host Squawk Alley, Squawk Box, and Mad Money, respectively; Harwood is the network’s chief Washington correspondent, and Epperson is a CNBC Senior Personal Finance Correspondent.

But it’s Santelli who deserves special mention here. Currently, he hosts Squawk On The Street , and while he’s more of a business commentator than a political pundit, he inadvertently played a crucial role in the formation of the Tea Party, one of the most high-profile political movements of the last decade. In 2009, as the government was scrambling to deal with the recent economic collapse, Santelli used his post to denounce the government’s attempts to alleviate the pain. Santelli’s raged against government intervention in the economy, and slammed the incoming Obama administration’s proposed stimulus package. Santelli took specific issue with the prospect of providing relief to foreclosed homeowners, accusing the government of “promoting bad behavior.”

“How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage, that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?” Santelli barked. “President Obama, are you listening?” The Chicago Board of Trade, from which Santelli was broadcasting, exploded into cheers.

The speech went viral, and whether Santelli intended it or not, his plea became a battle cry for the nascent Tea Party, and many, including Glenn Beck, consider him the father of the movement. Within months, Tea Partiers were holding rallies and protests on the regular, and their gripe, broadly speaking, was the same as Santelli’s: too much government spending.

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Since then, the GOP has fancied itself a champion of small government, though that claim is somewhat contradicted by the party’s stances on abortion, gay marriage, marijuana, foreign policy, and the entire presidency of George W. Bush. The inclusion of Santelli in the next debate raises the possibility that the candidates may be pressed on these contradictions. Or maybe not. We’ll find out in just over a week.