“Quite frankly, it’s a quick, cheap ratings hit,” says GOP debate moderator
Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who will moderate Thursday’s Donald Trump-free GOP debate, says his Sunday news show is the only one not handling Trump with kid gloves.
“I think if anything, the media has treated him too well,” Wallace told TheWrap. “By that I mean they’ve allowed him to play by different rules. … All the other Sunday shows have allowed Trump to call in and do phone interviews. I’m the only Sunday show host that [will only talk] in person. I think that Sunday shows hold themselves to a higher standard.”
He continued: “We do long, in-depth interviews and part of that is you’re being able to see the face of the politician and watch him react in real time when getting asked tough questions. Quite frankly, it’s a quick, cheap ratings hit to do a phone interview, and they haven’t done it with any other candidate. I think that’s surprising and disappointing. If I were another candidate I’d be going a little bit crazy about the fact that Trump gets so much more air time than anyone else does. But look, on the Republican side he’s been the story.”
We spoke with Wallace on Tuesday, just hours before Trump announced his decision to bail out on Thursday’s debate because he doesn’t believe Wallace’s co-moderator, Megyn Kelly, could be fair. Trump has taken several shots at Kelly since August, when she grilled him during a debate about his past comments about women.
TheWrap: The first Fox News GOP debate was the most-watched non-sporting event in cable history. Why do you think people are so into the process this year?
Wallace: Well, I think a couple of things. First of all, the Trump factor. He brings something new and different to the political process. He’s a genuine non-political celebrity, reality TV show host and politically incorrect and unpredictable. So there is that sense of, kind of, danger. What’s he going to say? So I think that’s certainly part of it. But what has struck me since then is how not only the Republican, but also the Democratic debates have been getting unprecedented audiences. I think, in a sense, what’s propelling Trump and propelling Bernie Sanders is what’s propelling the audience. People are fed up with politics and politicians as usual. They’re looking for something different.
Earlier this week, Fox News issued a statement that essentially said Trump fears Kelly. Were you surprised to see the network respond like that?
I don’t think that Trump fears Megyn Kelly. I think to a certain degree he’s trying to work the refs. A lot of politicians do that. They think if they complain or if they threaten then maybe they’ll get a more favorable question. I know Megyn doesn’t fear Trump and I never felt that Trump fears Megyn. It’s all just part of the political game.
Were you proud of Fox News for publicly defending her against the GOP frontrunner?
I was proud but not surprised. If you know anything about Roger Ailes, you know that he has the back of everybody at Fox. On air and off. The idea that he would give in to a threat or some kind of remark from a politician, it’s just not who Roger is. It never occurred to me for a moment that he would.
Has Roger Ailes given you any specific instructions for this debate?
He didn’t in the last debate and he hasn’t in this one. … He hires people and trusts them and has their backs.
It seems like Trump, Rubio and Cruz are the Big 3. What can other candidates do to join that tier?
Win [laughs]. Or at least do better than expected. I would agree with you, certainly, about Trump and Cruz as the two frontrunners. Rubio, I think, is in a much more vulnerable position. He might have a slight edge but, who is going to finish third in Iowa? I don’t know. If it’s Rubio, that will help him. If it were Kasich or Christie, that would help them. Who is going to finish second or third, most likely behind Trump, in New Hampshire? That’s going to give them a big edge and hurt the others. One of the things I have learned, because I am so wrong so often in predicting this race this year, is I’m kind of along for the ride. I’m out of the predicting business. I’m in the reporting business. When it happens, I think I’ll be able to tell you what it means but I’m not going to guess what happens before hand.