Fox News’s Bret Baier moderates his third GOP presidential debate Thursday, this one in Orlando, Fla. The debate, sponsored by Fox News and Google, will include viewer-submitted questions and information on Google search trends to provide context for the discussion.
Baier spoke to The Hill about preparations for the event.
We’ve had a number of meetings. Obviously, the interaction with Google and YouTube has been fantastic and has enabled us to go through a lot of people’s questions — about 19,000 at this point. We have a committee that has been going through these thousands and thousands of questions. Incorporating that into this debate is going to be a unique thing.
We’ve been whittling down how all this is coming together. I think it should be very interesting, I’ll tell you that.
Q: You’ve moderated two other debates this campaign season. What have you learned from those that you’ll apply to this one?
I learned to expect the unexpected. I learned that things don’t always go as you had planned. I learned that it is difficult to logistically maneuver through eight candidates. Tomorrow there will be nine onstage. It’s a challenge to be fair on time and questions. But we’ve previously done it very effectively.
Q: As you mention, there always seems to be an issue with giving the candidates the time they feel they deserve. How are you going to handle that?
We have a producer, a number of them, in the control room and in a truck who are talking to me in my ear, and we have someone who is monitoring every second that each candidate speaks. We are balancing it out in real time. In the Iowa debate, the difference between the top-talking candidate and the bottom one was very minimal. The number of questions asked to each candidate was roughly the same.
While it may seem, over the two hours, that things are different, you’d be surprised when you get to the end of the debate and look at the raw numbers to see how it balances out.
Q: What do you think is the key to moderating a debate like this?
There’s a couple of keys: One is to listen to their answers, to follow up when needed if it’s a complete dodge and to also, I think, have fun.
First of all, this is a dream come true for me to be in this seat. To be doing this is something I’ve always wanted to do, and the fact that I’m here — you pinch yourself. When I get up there, at least the last two times, of course you get butterflies, but it’s this moment of, “Wow, this is a lot of fun,” and I try to show that to viewers and make the broadcast move, be as informative and substantive as I can, but also show that it’s something interesting to watch.
Q: How does this compare to your regular job as “Special Report” anchor?
It’s different logistically. You have to deal with the candidates on the stage, and making sure it’s fair time-wise. It’s similar in that we deal with the same issues, the issues of the day, the issues people care about, on the show. So I’m talking about this stuff every day, which leads to some of the questions.
Q: Do you have any plan to get the candidates to say things they haven’t said yet?
In the Iowa debate, I had a preamble before I started the questions in which I asked the candidates to leave the talking points for the campaign stops and the polished applause lines for the diners and try to talk from the heart. I’ll probably make a similar appeal like that … In a debate like this, of course, candidates have to hit their point because they have a minute to answer their questions … But the most genuine moments happen when candidates are not listing bullet points. They’re expressing a reaction to something or saying something … we haven’t heard ad nauseam.
Q: How’d you get this gig? Did you raise your hand?
When I took over for Brit Hume, I took the seat of the lead political anchor for Fox News Channel, and it comes with the job.
As a political reporter, I was at the Pentagon for five years, and a chief White House correspondent for three-plus years, and during elections I would follow the debates … and Brit Hume would be the moderator, and I would think, “That’s something I really would love to do.” I think after a couple of big debates under my belt, I’m finding my stride.
Q: Do you have any rituals before you do something big like this? Or in general, any rituals before you go on air?
I have a busy debate day because it falls during the week, so I still do my show, “Special Report,” at 6 p.m. Eastern. But right before the debate, I set aside some time to go in a room by myself and call my wife and two kids, 4 years old and 1 year old, and talk about their day, and it usually gets me in the right mind. My 4-year-old will tell me something about his day at school, and it puts it in perspective.
Q: What are you going to wear?
I have a couple of options, and part of that is just asking the director what looks best with a certain background. I would assume that it would probably be a red tie.