The bloated field of Republican presidential candidates will be flying into Cleveland next week, joining Fox News anchors and hosts Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace for the first national debate
in this election cycle. The event is set for 9-11 p.m. on Aug. 6, live at Quicken Loans Arena.
The plan is to average out the five most recent nationally recognized polls as of 5 p.m. on Aug. 4 and bring the top 10 polling candidates to the primetime debate. (The remaining six or seven candidates will square off in an early-evening debate on Aug. 6.)
spoke with Baier this week about his role as one of three moderators and about the budding presidential campaigns' actions thus far.
Day-to-day, what sort of prep does an event like this demand?
We've been meeting everyday. Megyn, Chris and me and a couple of others. We're going through questions and we're kind of stacking the show — prepping for how things could
go, but there are a lot of variables obviously. Right now we're whittling down questions, and we've been doing that for a few weeks now. As we get closer it's everyday, kind of going through the choreography.
We're a year out from the RNC, but the race is in full swing. What sort of questions or policy arenas are you trying to touch on, given the wide gulf between now and the election?
The things that come up in polls that are important to people: You can expect all of those things to be asked. We have a lot of umbrellas of topics. But specific questions about how candidates have dealt with things or talked about things before. It really runs the gamut. You can think of the big ones. All of those will be covered.
How do you plan on balancing the entertainment factor vs. the serious and political side of the debate?
I think we're of the mindset that it's a news event for us. Getting the substance and topics that people care about is going to be the key thing, but there are other dynamics here — dynamic people who run the stage who may try to do and say a number of things. How that happens and how it unfolds will be part of the interesting part of the two hours. I don't want to say that we're going to be fostering any of that. There will be interaction between the candidates. Our focus is more on the substance of the topics.
Format-wise, will there be follow-up or rebuttal opportunities?
There will be a response to the main question and then 30 seconds for a follow-up. If somebody else is mentioned, they'll have 30 seconds to respond. It'll be the same rules that we had last time.
Speaking of last time and the past in general, as an observer and as a news anchor, what's surprising you about this election cycle from previous years?
Obviously all of the candidates. I mean, we may have 17 as of today with former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore announcing he's going to get in. That's totally unique and it doesn't seem like there's really a frontrunner, except for Donald Trump right now. If anybody would have told you six months ago that Donald Trump would be leading pretty much every national poll heading into the first debate, you probably could have made a lot of money in Vegas.
How much does the visual/social media culture play a role in how voters relate to candidates, in your view?
Is Donald Trump a phenomenon of the new age? I mean, I'll just cut to the chase here. Part of his success is due to a real visceral anger about politicians on both sides of the aisle. People in Washington: They're just not getting stuff done. According to the polls, many people feel that way. They're just mad, and that's part of his traction. Is the media and the Internet and the social media, does it fuel some of that? I think that's definitely the case. We'll see how this campaign unfolds. I think it will be different than any other that we've seen.
What sort of impact do you and your team see this debate having in this stage of the cycle?
There are going to be other debates; there's another debate in September. I think this will be a moment in time. It just happens to be a really big moment. It's the first time everybody's together and interacting with each other. We don't know how it's going to go. Hopefully people are going to look at it and say: They asked tough questions, it was substantive, I learned something about people. And it helps inform voters. I don't know what the fallout will be. There are nine [debates] this time instead of 23 — I think nine to 12. Last time there were 23 debates. I know five of them last time were pretty good. ...I'm joking because I moderated five of them.
It's looking today like Gov. Kasich may inch into the top 10. And while 10 is just shy of half the current pool, that's still a lot of candidates — a lot of names that people may not really be familiar with yet, which is good.
If it was held today, he would make it, according to the average polls. We'll see where it is on Tuesday, Aug. 4. Obviously his campaign is getting some traction in New Hampshire. It's interesting to watch how he got in a little late but he's making some headway. I think you're right, 10 is a lot. It's the most candidates that have ever been on a debate stage together.
Obviously the RNC may be the biggest factor, but what brought the debate to Cleveland?
We thought there was a lot of synergy in that you could say, on this very stage one of these people will accept the Republican nomination in less than a year from now. That seemed like a good bookend. Obviously Ohio is a swing state that is extremely important. I think Republicans looking to their convention thought it was a good place to start debates as well.
Well, it's sort of the talk of the town right now. Anything else viewers should know?
It's going to be substantive. I hope it's going to be fun, and you're going to learn some things. There will be some interactions that will illuminate the situation. People will be plugged in. There's a Facebook element to this, and we'll be using questions [from viewers]. We'll get as many of those as we can into the debate.