Would anyone like to fact-check this statement from Donald Trump? Earlier this morning, the Republican nominee told Fox & Friends that he doesn’t want moderators interfering with the exchanges between himself and Hillary Clinton, especially for the purposes of fact-checking. Stick to moderating, Trump advised Lester Holt, rather than offer a repeat of Candy Crowley’s interference four years ago:
The Republican presidential nominee suggested that the “NBC Nightly News” anchor be a moderator, not a fact-checker, a recommendation that comes after NBC’s Matt Lauer faced intense criticism earlier this month after allowing Trump’s assertion that he didn’t support the Iraq War go unchecked.
“Well, I think he has to be a moderator,” Trump told “Fox and Friends” of Holt during a phone interview Thursday morning. “I mean, you’re debating somebody and if she makes a mistake or I make a mistake, I’ll, you know, we’ll take each other on. But I certainly don’t think you want Candy Crowley again.”
Perhaps that statement needs a fact check. That’s not a reference to some journalists, such as my friend Ron Fournier, who sincerely believe that fact-checking should be the role of the moderator. It’s a reference to those who benefited from Crowley’s one-sided (and erroneous) intervention in the election through her factless fact check in 2012. At least some of the pressure on Holt to act as Truth Arbiter in the debate likely comes from desperation among some about the fact that Trump’s still in competitive position in the presidential race, and not about equitable refereeing.
This might actually require a fact check, though:
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) September 22, 2016
Trump doesn’t have a long track record in public debates — not as long as Hillary’s, certainly — but being “very respectful” of opponents has not been a hallmark of Trump’s debate oeuvre. Ridicule, insults, and demeaning nicknames has been Trump’s pattern so far, and usually he defends his status quo based on the level of success he’s had in getting this far.
Perhaps, though, Trump understands that he has to win a much different audience in Monday’s debate than he did in the primaries. He’ll need the kind of discipline he suggests in order to prevail, I argue in my column for The Fiscal Times, and the opportunity exists to win if Trump can do so:
Trump likes to go on offense, sometimes so eager that he ends up damaging his own cause, but Clinton gives Trump plenty of targets on which to focus. She will undoubtedly emphasize her own experience and point to Trump’s own lack of preparation for the job.
Trump has to refocus that argument on the Clinton establishment and the corruption between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation – such as the discovery by the Washington Examiner that nearly 40 percent of State Department appointments to advisory boards went to foundation donors. Anti-establishment fervor drove the 2016 primary cycle and remains a potent force, and only Trump has an opening to define the election on those populist terms.
National security will play a big role in the debate, and that favors Clinton to some degree because of her four years as Secretary of State. Trump has openings there, too, especially when it comes to issues such as Libya and Egypt. Trump met with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi earlier this week, offering the firm friendship of the US in a Trump administration.
Trump should use that to remind viewers of the Obama administration’s disastrous Arab Spring policies, which turned Libya into a failed state and nearly did the same thing to Egypt, or worse, leaving it in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that has spun off terrorists like Hamas and al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri. If Trump really finds his pace, he can challenge Hillary to name specific accomplishments from her tenure at State, especially in the realm of national security, as her surrogates continue to get stumped on that question.
All of this advice is predicated on Trump’s sense of discipline and preparation, and that’s based on his improved performance on the campaign trail since mid-August. Will he succeed in sticking to a strategy and win the debate? To parallel Silver, the Trump from six weeks ago might have had a one-in-ten shot, but the Trump – and Clinton – of late make it almost a 50:50 proposition.