The media consensus after the first GOP debate in August was that the Fox News moderators had done a good job. The idea that they had done poorly was a minority view, outside of the fervent gallery of Donald Trump supporters.
Yet Thursday night’s Fox News debate–the last before the Iowa caucuses–had all of the same weaknesses, without the theatrics around Trump to save the moderators from a weak approach focused on attacking the participants.
Several candidates faced a direct attack. Marco Rubio got the worst of it, with a video montage of his campaign promises to oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants. Certainly the question, which came from moderator Megan Kelly, was long overdue. But the lead-in was over-the-top. Likewise with Ted Cruz, who faced his own clips from the Gang of Eight debate and a question based on the false premise that he had partially supported the bill.
As Ben Shapiro and Ace of Spades both noted, Fox likely had some kind of montage prepared for Trump. Trump was also the likely target of two of the three questions from YouTube personalities, one of which came from an illegal immigrant from Mexico, while the other came from a Muslim woman claiming that criticism of Muslims on social media had led to a surge in hate crimes.
The third, non-Trump-related question was effectively a “Black Lives Matter” point about the use of force by law enforcement. These are the kinds of questions that the Republican nominee might eventually face in general election debates, but they are not important to Republican primary voters.
As in the first debate, the Fox News moderators treated the event like an extended Sunday morning news interview, rather than a discussion among the candidates of their policies, qualifications, and visions. Fox should do far better.