When he’s right, he’s right, and his diagnosis below of the left wetting its pants over Matt Lauer’s forum questions last week is right. They’re working the refs, Trump insists. They’re battering Lauer to make sure that the debate moderators are harder on me than he was. And so they are.
When you think “Lincoln-Douglas,” you don’t think “Donald Trump,” but I can see how an unmoderated format might work better for him than having some reporter tossing questions at him and Clinton would be. The downside would be that he’d have more speaking time than he will two weeks from now, and more time means more chances to show that you don’t know your policy ABCs as well as Clinton does. But eliminating the moderator would give Trump more opportunity to control the direction of the conversation. And that would become a new variable for the audience: Never mind the answers themselves — how well did each candidate do in controlling the discussion and forcing the other to play defense? Even if Trump comes off as less polished on policy, he could win just by forcing Clinton into some uncomfortable stammering answers about her email natsec practices. Dominance is his brand, and asserting dominance in a debate with Clinton would illustrate that.
The risk, though, is that if she ended up controlling the conversation, he’d take a thousand punches the next day from a gleeful media about how “the girl kicked the bully’s ass.” Clinton is expected to do better in moderated debates, which works to Trump’s advantage in the sense that the bar for him to “do well” is set lower. In an unmoderated debate, the expectations might flip: The alpha male would be expected to dominate the woman candidate. If she pushed him around, he’d look like a chump.
Speaking of moderators:
Although that executive said Trump asks for specific anchors or moderators less than others, the GOP nominee is clear about which ones he prefers. It’s hard to envision Trump agreeing to last week’s NBC forum were Rachel Maddow or Chuck Todd asking the questions. And there is wide speculation among media executives that NBC’s Lester Holt, who Trump is comfortable with, was chosen to moderate the first debate with Clinton later this month in order to appease the GOP nominee. Similarly, some also believe that Fox News’ Chris Wallace was tapped to moderate the third and final debate to lessen the chance that Trump would skip it.
Well, okay, but it’s hard to envision Hillary agreeing to last week’s forum if Sean Hannity was asking the questions. Each candidate is going to rule out some moderators due to perceived bias. I don’t think Holt was chosen to moderate because his selection would “appease” Trump, though; I think the debate commission wanted a big name from each of the big five networks and Holt, as the anchor of the NBC Nightly News, was the obvious choice. Fox News was trickier insofar as, in an alternate universe, the commission probably would have preferred Megyn Kelly. She’s a bigger star at this point than either Chris Wallace or Bret Baier and, as a woman, she’d give the debate structure this year some extra diversity. Right now there’s a lone woman moderator for the VP debate and a woman co-moderator for the second debate but no women journalists have been offered a presidential debate by themselves this year. Kelly would have been an obvious choice to fill Fox News’s allotted slot, but her dust-up with Trump during the primaries made it impossible. Maybe in 2020.