Donald Trump returns to the Fox News debate stage tomorrow night after famously skipping the last one amid a feud with network boss Roger Ailes.
Co-moderator Bret Baier told TheWrap he expects “some surprises that we have not thought about from Mr. Trump” but prefers a “fiery but substantive debate.”
Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace were the moderators of last summer’s record-setting debate when Trump’s objection to a question from Kelly about the treatment of women kicked off six months of drama between the GOP frontrunner and Ailes.
The trio returns as moderators tomorrow night in Detroit, setting up a reunion between Trump and the Fox News Moderators. We caught up with Baier to discuss Ailes’ role in the debate, what they’ll do if Trump personally attacks the moderators, and his thoughts on this year’s Best Picture, “Spotlight.”
Do the moderators have any plans to try to break the ice with Trump?
I don’t think so. I don’t think there is anything. We have so much stuff to do before Thursday. That said, we know there is going to be a lot of focus on that dynamic [Trump vs. Fox News] back from the August debate and the fallout from it. We’re really not focused on that. We’re focused on trying to make it substantive and, judging by the last debate, keep it on the rails so that voters get the most out of the time with the candidates all on the same stage.
You mentioned the last debate; do you think CNN’s Wolf Blitzer lost control?
Wolf is a friend of mine and I would tell this to his face. I get how tough that is. These candidates are like horses at the gate, ready to run. You have to give them some breathing room to have those interactions. But then you kind of have to rein them back. It’s a tough job. I assume it will be tough for us, too.
Why do you think it took so long for Marco Rubio to go after Trump and attack him personally?
I don’t know. I’ve asked him that and there wasn’t really a good answer. I think a lot of these candidates thought that Trump would flame out or implode. Or they didn’t truly believe that he had the staying power but he is riding this wave of anger about Washington in general. Both parties. He’s doing it effectively and the other opponents waited a long time to swing for the fences.
Is attacking and attempting to bully Trump the only way to throw him off his game?
I actually don’t know. I’m not an expert in campaign strategy. It seems like, at least for a day, he was reacting to some of those attacks. Again, with anything there is a balance there. You can go over the line and I think you may start seeing Rubio dial it back.
To me, it seemed like Rubio was essentially doing standup comedy at one of his rallies, and then Trump called him Don Rickles.
He, I think realized in the final weeks here, that in order to get into news programs with somebody like Donald Trump, who says a lot of different things on a lot of different days, maybe made the calculation that he needs to say some outlandish things as well.
Have you guys discussed how it would be handled if Trump goes out of his way to offend Megyn, or any of the moderators, during the debate?
We haven’t gamed that out. We hope that’s not the case and we hope it’s more about the questions that the voters want answered. Megyn, as I’ve said many times, is a big girl and can handle herself. We’ll be sitting next to her and would obviously step in if needed, but it’s never needed.
My prediction is that Trump breaks the ice by complimenting her new haircut early in the evening. Do you think there is any chance of that happening?
[Laughs] Maybe so. I assume there will be some surprises that we have not thought about from Mr. Trump and maybe from others. If I had to write the headline the next day, I would love to write ‘Fiery but substantive debate.’ I would love that to be the fallout.
Has Roger Ailes told you to do anything different for this debate?
No. We haven’t talked about the debate. He’ll give us a pep talk before Thursday, I’m sure. He has not been intimately involved in the questions sessions. He usually comes in at the end and tells us “make it work.”
Early in your career, you had to work multiple jobs to pay the bills. Can you elaborate on that?
Sure. I started at a little station called WJWJ in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I was a one-man band, reporter, photographer, editor and it did not, most early TV jobs don’t, pay well. So I delivered food and I was a bartender. Occasionally I would deliver somebody’s calzone and they would open the door and say, ‘wait a second, you’re the guy on Channel 6.’
Why won’t the Democratic Party have a debate on Fox News?
We’ve asked, repeatedly. We’ve put together a lot of pitches. I don’t know the answer to that. I’ve asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz that directly on air. We are working on some things and maybe something will pan out. But, as of yet, it has not come to pass.
Have you seen ‘Spotlight?’
No. I have been so crazed. I haven’t seen any movies. My wife and I were talking about this last night. What would we pay to be able to go see a movie? We have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old, and it just has not come together yet.
You have more Twitter followers than any other evening news anchor. Why do you think engaging with viewers is so important?
I think it’s the wave of the future. Much more interactions than people being plugged in is the way that our business will evolve. I think, answering people’s questions, maybe pushing back on the occasional negative tweet, only shows people that you care about what they think and that you’re a real person.