The RNC Primary debate was the second major campaign event, following the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa last month. Like the first event, Donald Trump was not to show. Nevertheless, it was the biggest draw to Fox News in quite some time, and Fox News proved to be unprofessional and downright amateurish with the task of moderating the debate. Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum were tasked with moderating the debate, and they showcased the lack of talent that Fox News is left with in a post Tucker Carlson world.
There are a few key areas of failure going into the debate that were set up by the Republican National Committee. The threshold to get onto the debate stage was far too surmountable. Eight people is a crowd, and there’s a dispute about whether a ninth candidate qualified or not. Fox News did not know how to do a debate with that many people and it showed.
Candidates routinely went over without deterrence. Candidates interrupted and talked over each other routinely. Bret Baier attempted to lecture the candidates about going over, and even had to tell the crowd to stop booing Chris Christie. A professionally run operation would have cut the microphones of candidates who went over. Simple as that. Or alternatively would have deducted their time on future answers. I have put on a candidate forum before and I maintained control of the time without the ability to cut off mics.
Additionally, Fox NEws had prepared gotcha followups for some candidates but not others. In the 2016 first debate, each candidate got a personalized questioned tailored towards a perceived weakness. For instance, John Kasich was asked about attending a gay wedding. There was none of that this time. Instead, Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, and a few others had prepared gotcha question as follow-ups to their answers. Bret Baier was magically able to pull up the bond rating of New Jersey and clumsily attempted to debate Florida’s crime rate. These were clearly prepared questions. So the question is why the partial treatment. Vivek Ramaswamy could have easily been asked to clarify how statements in his book contradicted his current statements on Donald Trump, but was not. Fox News seemed to want Vivek to do well.
Most damningly, Fox News on multiple occasions tried to entrap candidates from the left. Two examples of this are when they asked whether candidates believed in man-made climate change and whether Mike Pence did the right thing on January 6. These are both liberal premises from which to ask questions. Climate change is not a relevant issue to Republican voters. However, to be labeled a “climate denier” is bad electorally. Fox News is setting up a trap to hurt candidates that deny climate change, because they are more conservative. Climate change is a scam and Republicans should be free to talk about it as such not from the starting point of acceding to its legitimacy as a threat to human flourishing. Ron DeSantis was right to avoid that trap. The Mike Pence question was similarly geared towards Fox News trying to control the narrative on January 6th, gatekeeping conservative thought on this issue as well. A few candidates, DeSantis and Berman, wanted to talk about the future and not relitigate 2020. But Fox News was clearly more interested in talking about the past.
This debate was one step backwards for the prowess of Fox News, and their unprofessionalism ultimately made Trump look better for not showing up than skipping the debate should have.
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