Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
BOULDER, Colo. — In easily his most animated moment on the debate stage since he launched his presidential campaign, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz excoriated moderators of the third GOP presidential debate Wednesday night.
"This is not a cage match," the Texas Republican said. "And 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?' 'Marco Rubio, why don't you resign?' 'Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?' How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?"
Cruz's media criticism drew loud applause at the University of Colorado Boulder, where the GOP field gathered for the CNBC-hosted event. It was an especially spirited moment compared to his first two debates, during which Cruz hit his talking points but stopped short of delivering breakout performances.
"Even without the mainstream media not wanting to get into positive economic ideas and substance, it was a terrific debate," Cruz told reporters in brief remarks afterward.
Cruz's allies were thrilled that he called out the moderators, with a number of surrogates telling reporters the senator "took control" of a debate veering into triviality. Cruz adviser Jason Miller said the senator played the "grown-up card," while Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, newly tapped Texas chairman of Cruz's campaign, said other candidates were probably thinking, "I should've said that," when Cruz intervened.
"He carried the debate on his shoulders when he took on those hosts," Patrick told reporters, likening Cruz to a quarterback carrying his team.
Minutes before the economy-focused debate started, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Cruz outlining his tax plan, which calls for a 10 percent flat income tax. Cruz moved quickly early in the debate to tout the fairness of the proposals, saying that under the plan, "no hedge fund manager pays less than his secretary."
Between the tax plan rollout and moderator lashing, Cruz surrogates believe he struck the perfect balance of substance and style. Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe called the debate a "great night for the campaign," suggesting it was poised for another surge in post-debate fundraising. Cruz's tangle with the moderators "blew up on money," Roe added.
Less than two hours after the debate ended, Cruz's campaign indicated he had already raised more than half a million dollars.
Cruz later patched things up with moderator John Harwood, who noted the two are "clearly not having that beer you mentioned." That was a reference to a Cruz's earlier admission that he may not be the candidate with which Americans want to grab a beer.
"I'll buy you a tequila or even some famous Colorado brownies," Cruz replied, drawing laughs at the mention of a state known for its legalization of marijuana.