Much has been written about the first Republican debate on FOX. Opinions are all over the map. What merits further discussion, however, is how Roger Ailes’s ratings smash Thursday night was little short of a dismissive lynching. Featuring Donald Trump as the lynchee. Mercifully, most of the onstage political mob (with a few, notable exceptions) were on their game and refused to be whipped into the frenzy Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace and, to a lesser degree, Brett Baier tried their hardest to compel.
To borrow a phrase from a Facebook post Thursday night, “the RNC Assassination Squad” was out, in full force. This, from a prominent member of the Republican Party who is documented to despise Donald Trump. If he noticed, how suspect are the glowing reviews of the FOX circus, from both sides of the political aisle?
Megyn Kelly was, shamefully, the key offender. From transcripts of the debate, Kelly asked reasonable questions of the other candidates focusing on policy, Medicaid or security:
–“Dr. Carson. You are a successful neurosurgeon, but you admit that you have had to study up on foreign policy, saying there’s a lot to learn.”
— “Governor Kasich, You chose to expand Medicaid in your state, unlike several other governors on this stage tonight…”
— “Governor Christie. You’ve said that Senator Paul’s opposition to the NSA’s collection of phone records has made the United States weaker and more vulnerable…”
But Kelly’s first question to The Donald, made FOX’s position absolutely clear:
— “Mr. Trump …You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.’”
Fair and balanced. Yeah, right.
The attacks became even more pronounced. Chris Wallace, in his familiar, autocratic role, tried to force Mr. Trump to speak “directly to” Governor Bush about Bush’s opinion that Trump’s statements about immigration were “extraordinarily ugly.” Trump replied “This was not a subject that was on anybody’s mind until I brought it up at my announcement. And I said, Mexico is sending. Except the reporters, because they’re a very dishonest lot, generally speaking, in the world of politics, they didn’t cover my statement the way I said it.” Wallace got even more confrontational: “I’ll give you 30 seconds to answer my question…” Wallace tried, unsuccessfully, to get other candidates to vilify Trump on the immigration issue.
To Wallace’s annoyance, Governor Kasich praised Trump instead. Wallace, frustrated, then attempted to get Senator Rubio to badmouth Trump, stating “let me see if I can do better with you…” Wallace’s next question to Trump dealt with Trump’s bankruptcy, staging it as if Trump had heartlessly booted orphans out in the snow. It didn’t work; Wallace tried to cut off Trump’s response. Trump wouldn’t allow it.
The attack tag team hit its lowest point when waspish Kelly asked the following of Donald Trump:
“Mr. Trump…in this campaign, your critics say you often sound more like a Democrat than a Republican, (your) calling several of your opponents on the stage things like clowns and puppets. When did you actually become a Republican?”
Needless to say, Mr. Trump handled the attacks well and had rational responses which the FOX “assassination squad” did not want its audience to hear. Bloomberg News even cited FOX’s unprofessional behavior rebuking Fox News host Megyn Kelly for her questioning comparing it to “something Rachel Maddow would ask.”
The meme that Donald Trump “attacks” fellow candidates is, plainly put, a lie. What he did do is respond to attacks made on him by other candidates, first. Unwillingness to take a beating is a large part of Donald Trump’s wide-spread appeal. When political wishful thinking is questioned, however, it’s like football. Often, the guy responding to a blow gets tossed out of the game.
There was plenty to despise about FOX’s disgraceful performance, other than how they attempted to relegate the number one candidate in the polls to the dog house; refusing to ask more than two questions of Ted Cruz, talking more than the candidates, highlighting a Frank Luntz focus group that was entirely about trashing Donald Trump, FOX commentators waxing about how “mean” Donald Trump was to Megyn Kelly (?!?), and Megyn Kelly immediately following the debate with commentary devoted almost entirely to devaluing Donald Trump, including interviews with DNC chair-harpy Debbie Schultz, the two practically cackling about Donald Trump’s “misogynism.”
The good news was that, largely, the candidates conducted themselves intelligently and respectably, with a few stars emerging; not the ones perhaps preordained by FOX but, emerging nonetheless. Brett Baier was the only moderator of any value among the mediators. Baier was all that stood in the way of the debate completely deteriorating into just another reality show.
The next Republican debate will air in September on CNN with moderators Jake Tapper and Hugh Hewitt. CNN won’t have to raise the bar much to improve on FOX’s circus.