Fox News’ Baier: Expect Michigan questions at debate

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Bret Baier, Fox News’ chief political anchor and host of “Special Report,” will moderate Thursday night’s Republican debate in Detroit, along with Fox colleagues Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly.

Baier has worked at Fox News for 19 years. His assignments included covering Atlanta, national security at the Pentagon for six years and the White House for four years. In 2009, he took over the 6 p.m. “Special Report” show from “my mentor and friend” Brit Hume, a former ABC White House correspondent.

The Detroit News caught up with the 45-year-old Baier to discuss what it’s like to host a debate, and how he handles candidates — such as New York’s bombastic billionaire Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — who have attacked moderators as much as their opponents.

Q: You’ve already moderated two debates this year and five in 2012. Do you enjoy it?

A: It’s fun. I’m not a professional athlete, but I presume it’s like what they feel before a big game. There are the familiar butterflies each time, but viewership has been extraordinary this cycle. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Q: Why have Republicans lashed out at moderators this year — most famously with Donald Trump attacking your colleague, Megyn Kelly?

A: Well, there were 14 Republican candidates initially. So you get a lot more “I didn’t get enough time; it’s not fair.” But that’s also part of the DNA — the lowest common denominator is to strike out at the media, and everyone can agree we don’t have high approval ratings.

Q: How do you decide if a question’s too nasty or personal?

A: Chris, Megyn and I sit in a room and literally read the questions beforehand. I like to say I work on the dismount, trying to keep the candidate from going right to talking points. I try not to provide an exit ramp to their stump speech.

Q: Some Republican candidates complain Democrats got softball questions in their debates.

A: I don’t know if that’s the case or not. I watched those debates, and I think in the first one (CNN’s) Anderson Cooper did a good job. We want people in the media to say we’ve been tough but fair. The headline I want the next day is “Fiery — but most-substantive debate.”

Q: Would you moderate a Democratic debate?

A: We hoped to have a Democratic debate or town hall, and we’ve tried. I asked the Democratic Party chair about it, and don’t understand why their candidates don’t want to come on the No. 1 news station. But so far they haven’t. Administration officials left and right come on my show. We have Democrats all the time. We’ll continue to try.

Q: Given the debate’s in Detroit, will there be Michigan-specific questions?

A: I don’t want to show too much leg, but every place we go factors into the questions. I think I was the first to ask in a debate about the Flint water crisis.

Q: Finally, given Donald Trump’s attacks on your colleague Megyn Kelly, are you sure he’ll show up tonight?

A: We think he’ll be there. His spokesperson has confirmed as much. We look forward to having him back on stage.

mhodges@detroitnews.com