Donald Trump can’t blame his poor debate performance on Lester Holt. Nor would it be wise for him to try. Biased moderators usually win twice when the victim whines. That’s why Kellyanne Conway shrewdly praised Holt’s performance after the debate.
But Holt’s performance was not praiseworthy. Rather, it was a nakedly biased effort to aid Hillary Clinton.
The mischief began with the very first question. Holt proclaimed the state of the economy good, complained about inequality, and wanted to know what the candidates will do about it.
The question stated the premise of Hillary Clinton’s campaign: that President Obama has fixed the economy as a general matter but inequality remains (thus, of course, requiring the federal government to gain more power and enact more liberal policies). If the Clinton campaign had written the first question about the economy, it likely would have come up with this question.
Trump, of course, denies that the economy is doing well and contends that the squeeze on the middle class, not inequality, is our central problem. Holt, as was to be expected, took Clinton’s side before either candidate had even spoken.
The question didn’t really influence the course of the debate. However, other questions posed by Holt certainly did.
Holt used the topic of race in America to raise the issue of Trump’s “birtherism.” The premise of posing this question in the context of a discussion about race is that Trump’s birtherism was race-based. That’s Hillary Clinton’s position. Holt embraced it.
Even if birtherism is relevant to race, there are dozens of issues that are more relevant. Holt selected birtherism because he wanted to set up an attack on Trump, not because he wanted to discuss race.
Holt also brought up Trump’s tax returns. He set it up by saying, “Mr. Trump, we’re talking about the burden that Americans have to pay, yet you have not released your tax returns.” Actually, the candidates were not talking about “the burden that Americans have to pay.” Holt just wanted to raise another topic that he thought, correctly, would help Clinton by making Trump look bad.
Trump’s tax returns are fair game in the debates. But where was the question that might help Trump by making Clinton look bad? There was none. Yes, he asked her about the deleted emails, but only to give her a chance to respond after Trump had raised the issue.
Before the debate, the mainstream media was insisting that Holt debate the facts with Trump. I believe he did so only once, disputing Trump’s claim that he opposed the Iraq war pre-invasion.
It’s difficult to be too sympathetic to Trump here because he certainly did make mildly supportive statements about invading Iraq. Even so, Holt overstepped his proper role.
When Holt asserted that Trump supported the war, Hillary Clinton had already said so and Trump had denied it. Thus, Holt wasn’t correcting a statement that otherwise might have gone uncorrected. Instead, was jumping in, Candy Crowley, on Clinton’s side.
That’s not the job of a debate moderator. But it’s the job that liberals like Holt and Crowley assign themselves in order to help the liberal candidate.
Again, I’m not blaming Lester Holt for Trump’s poor performance. Trump should have done much better on issues like birtherism, tax returns, and his tepid initial support for the Iraq war.
But with a proper moderator, Trump probably would not have had to face the triple whammy of these matters. Or if he did, Clinton would have had to answer pointed questions from the moderator about, say, the false claims she’s made about her emails, about the overthrow of Qaddafi, about Benghazi, and/or about the “Russian reset.”
Clinton’s ally Holt asked no such questions.