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Morning Glory: Trump dominated the debate. He doesn’t need a second one

OpinionMorning Glory: Trump dominated the debate. He doesn’t need a second one

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Former President Donald Trump accepted the first debate without any conditions. Turns out the conditions laid down by President Joe Biden’s team and CNN did nothing to help the infirm and failing incumbent president. Nor did a week of rest and debate prep. Nothing can help a very old man who is declining from infirmity to incoherence and then to incapacity before our eyes.  

(Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court effectively halts Special Counsel Jack Smith in his tracks for months at least, derailing Democrats’ “fail-safe” option. The highest court’s decision should also lead to the reversal of the convictions of the former president in New York as that prosecution proceeded without the black letter law guidance the Supreme Court provided yesterday. Manhattan trial Judge Juan Merchan botched the entire proceeding on many levels, and it should be begun again, if ever, with an assessment of whether the acts of then-President Trump for which he was prosecuted by Alvin Bragg are absolutely immune from scrutiny.) 

If Biden stays the Democrats’ nominee, or if he consents to be replaced, whether by Vice President Kamala Harris or via an “open convention,” Trump will be within his rights to reject a do-over debate with either the tottering Biden or anybody else. Trump demonstrates energy and capacity to be president every day. His policy choices are well known. A second series of questions about abortion and January 6th and not about China, Iran, the skyrocketing of antisemitism in the United States? Nah, he doesn’t need to do that.  


I have no beef with Dana Bash and Jake Tapper and the job they did as moderators. As written here and said repeatedly on my program and any program I was invited to appear on, Dana and Jake are professionals. I co-moderated four debates of GOP presidential candidates in the 2015-2016 cycle with Bash, two of which featured Tapper and two of which featured anchor Wolf Blitzer. I know the CNN debate process just as I know the NBC debate process from the GOP presidential candidate debate this past November, which I moderated with anchor Lester Holt and “Meet the Press” moderator Kristen Welker.  

Joe Biden, Donald Trump

President Biden and former President Trump debated on Thursday night.  (Getty Images)

It is a long and complicated process that produces the final debate questions, and that process inevitably reflects the biases, good and bad, of the entire networks involved and most especially of the moderators.  

When Salem Media nominated me as a moderator eight years ago and again last year, it did so because I have been a center-right Republican with a bias towards national security issues and questions related to those issues. Because I controlled my questions in the five debates I have helped moderate, my questions were overwhelmingly on issues related to national security.  

The Achilles heel of every network, including every radio, legacy television network and the cable news channel, is that the culture of every such organization, no matter the platform(s) on which they operate, impacts the choice of priorities of questions for debates. When a news organization is on the left, the question set inevitably is left-leaning.  

With few — almost none, actually — conservatives, moderate Republicans or genuine “independents” working for legacy “news organizations,” their collective view of what matters to the electorate is always skewed left and sometimes radically so (as with MSNBC.) Only Fox News among the major television networks has anything like a staff that represents all of America, including “red America.” 

The questions asked at debates reflect the collective culture of the hosting organization(s) and that means legitimate, indeed pressing or even urgent questions get left out of the discussions that swirl through the networks if those networks are left-of-center. If everyone on your team is liberal-to-left leaning, then all of the questions will reflect that disposition.  

A second-order consequence of systemic bias in a news organization is that the questions asked at a debate will avoid all but the most obvious questions on the minds of the half of America that is loosely defined as “red America.” 


That “abortion” and “January 6” got many questions on Thursday night was fine. Those are big issues for many Americans. But where were the questions about the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party? Where was the question about the threat posed by the theocrats of Iran who are within days reaching “breakout” and having a nuke (or six or more)? What about the virulent antisemitism on our campuses and on our streets? Where was the discussion of our defense spending, now below 3% of GDP, or about our Navy, struggling to get our existing submarines the maintenance they need much less constructing the new “Columbia class” nuclear submarines on time to replace the Ohio class submarines that are aging out soon? 

Liberals ask about issues of concern to liberals and leftists. That is to be expected. Conservatives ask about issues of concern to moderates and conservatives. Not once in the modern era has a presidential debate featured a declared center-right moderator, one who is probably if not openly a Republican. That needs to change. If it doesn’t, Trump should blow off another debate.  

Trump won hands down on Thursday night, and in such a decisive fashion that Democrats panicked and said everything out loud. Law students learn the probative value of “excited utterances,” which do have value in judicial proceedings. (An explanation is here.). On Thursday night after the debate and throughout the weekend, we were treated to an avalanche of “excited utterances” from panicked Democrats — both official and unofficial — on the post-debate programs on all the networks that carried them.  

“When everybody says you are drunk, you’d better sit down,” is an old saying, often attributed to the Irish but one that applies across cultures and peoples everywhere. Nearly everyone not named Biden said the same thing Thursday night: Biden is too old for a second term.  


In truth, they know the president should resign now as he clearly has extended periods of time when he’s not thinking clearly. All of our enemies probably already knew that, but not the extent of the problem. Now they do. President Kamala Harris would be (shudder) a better president for the next seven months. Trump will restore a measure of deterrence as soon as he is sworn in again.  

Let’s not deny reality. It’s time for Joe to go. And not because he lost a debate, but because he lost the confidence of the American people to do the hardest job in the world.  


Hugh Hewitt is host of “The Hugh Hewitt Show,” heard weekday mornings 6am to 9am ET on the Salem Radio Network, and simulcast on Salem News Channel. Hugh wakes up America on over 400 affiliates nationwide, and on all the streaming platforms where SNC can be seen. He is a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel’s news roundtable hosted by Brett Baier weekdays at 6pm ET. A son of Ohio and a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Michigan Law School, Hewitt has been a Professor of Law at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law since 1996 where he teaches Constitutional Law. Hewitt launched his eponymous radio show from Los Angeles in 1990.  Hewitt has frequently appeared on every major national news television network, hosted television shows for PBS and MSNBC, written for every major American paper, has authored a dozen books and moderated a score of Republican candidate debates, most recently the November 2023 Republican presidential debate in Miami and four Republican presidential debates in the 2015-16 cycle. Hewitt focuses his radio show and his column on the Constitution, national security, American politics and the Cleveland Browns and Guardians. Hewitt has interviewed tens of thousands of guests from Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Kerry to Republican Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump over his 40 years in broadcast, and this column previews the lead story that will drive his radio/ TV show today.


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