Little-Known Facts About the Fox News Republican Debate

Eric Zuesse

TIME has posted the transcript of the August 6th Fox News Channel Republican Presidential candidates’ debate, and there are a number of interesting features in it that have not generally been covered in the press:

1: After introducing all the contestants in this the first of the Republican Presidential candidates’ debates, FNC’s Chris Wallace turned to FNC’s Brett Baier and said, with no explanation “I think you would call that a home field advantage.” This constitutes subtle acknowledgment that Fox News Channel is, and prides itself on being, the Republican Party’s television network (thus “home field”). Mr. Baier’s reply to that was equally opaque: “It might be. We’ll see,” as if that statement meant something.

CORRECTION: A reader wrote in reply: “The reason for the Fox News comments in your number 1 is because they had just introduced Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the debate was in Ohio and he got massive applause. You should correct this.” I don’t subscribe to cable-TV, and so I had no way of knowing that Kasich received a bigger applause than the others did. I interpreted “home field advantage” on the basis only of the printed transcript, which is the only version of the complete debate that I’ve seen. I’ll never do that sort of thing again. However, I now interpret the phrase “home field advantage” as having been a very artful double-entendre on Chris Wallace’s part. Whether it was only a single-entendre statement is something that one can only guess about, and it might have been, but I don’t think that it was. Clearly, however, since the applause-level was louder for Kasich than for the others, that would have been the primary meaning for the phrase.

2: The first question in the debate was from Baier, and (as Ezra Klein aptly noted) it was specifically selected in order to shame one specific candidate, Donald Trump, who is the only candidate who has not promised to endorse whomever wins the Republican nomination: 

Gentlemen, we know how much you love hand-raising questions. So we promise, this is the only one tonight: the only one. Is there anyone on stage, and can I see hands, who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person.

Again, we’re looking for you to raise your hand now – raise your hand now if you won’t make that pledge tonight.

Mr. Trump.


Obviously, a Republican audience would boo such a candidate; so, this question got things off to the intended start – one in which Mr. Trump was uniquely disadvantaged in front of this particular crowd. What was immediately clear is that the debate’s hosting was being stage-managed so as to weaken Trump’s chances of winning the Party’s nomination.

Another candidate then chimed in to attack Trump:

[Rand] PAUL: I mean, this is what’s wrong. He buys and sells politicians of all stripes, he’s already… he’s already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying politicians.

The exchange on this closed with

TRUMP: I will not make the pledge at this time.

BAIER: OK. Alright.


This audience booed Trump but considered him just a joke.

3: Then, Megyn Kelly, to candidate Ben Carson:

Your critics say that your inexperience shows. You’ve suggested that the Baltic States are not a part of NATO, just months ago you were unfamiliar with the major political parties and government in Israel, and domestically, you thought Alan Greenspan had been treasury secretary instead of federal reserve chair.

Aren’t these basic mistakes, and don’t they raise legitimate questions about whether you are ready to be president?

CARSON: Well, I could take issue with – with all of those things, but we don’t have time.

In other words: he refused to answer the question. Unlike with candidate Trump, there was no follow-up, neither by FNC’s hosts nor by other candidates.

4: The first “(APPLAUSE)” for a candidate was indicated right after Jeb Bush said that, as Florida’s Governor,

they called me Veto Corleone. Because I vetoed 2,500 separate line-items in the budget. 


This applause suggests that the formula to sucker Republican voters is to cut government spending as much as possible, as if everything is better done by the private sector than by the public sector, or else as if serious consideration of what is better done by the public sector doesn’t even need to be discussed by Republicans who are running for public office.

5: The second “(APPLAUSE)” was right after Bush said:

And the net effect was, during my eight years, 1.3 million jobs were created. We left the state better off because I applied conservative principles in a purple state the right way, and people rose up.


6: The first question that was directed to Mr. Trump was:

KELLY: Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women.

You’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”


Your Twitter account…

TRUMP: Only Rosie O’Donnell.


KELLY: No, it wasn’t.


Your Twitter account…


TRUMP: Thank you.

KELLY: For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell.

TRUMP: Yes, I’m sure it was.

In other words: Trump there admitted that he either had been lying or else had erred in his first response to Kelly’s question. There was no audience response – no “(BOOING)” – to that admission of his guilt on this. This audience just didn’t care that he was either a liar or else a careless speaker. And there was no follow-up regarding which of the two he was in that exchange. (Do Republicans really not care which it was?)

7: The next question was from Chris Wallace, to candidate Ted Cruz; and it dealt with Cruz’s ability to “reach out to minorities.” Cruz’s answer, implying that he was proud of not doing it, was the second line of the evening to win an “(APPLAUSE)”: 

CRUZ: Chris, I believe the American people are looking for someone to speak the truth.


So: Republican voters don’t even want to have a President who will “reach out to minorities.” Whew! Are these people Nazis? Republican voters seem to seek that.

8: The next question, from Baier, was directed to candidate Christie:

Under your watch, New Jersey has undergone nine credit rating downgrades.

Christie’s reply:

CHRISTIE: If you think it’s bad now, you should’ve seen it when I got there.



In other words: when Baier pointed out that the situation that had preceded Christie’s Governorship was nine credit-levels better than it now is, the dumb audience first laughed (indicating that Christie is somehow to them a clown), and then they applauded when the answer was “you should’ve seen it when I got there” (indicating that nine credit-levels better was bad, not good; nine credit-levels worse is good, not bad). First, they laughed at Christie’s ‘joke,’ then applauded his response, which had pretended to the contrary of what Baier had just asserted to be the actual fact: it was actually nine credit-levels better “when I got there” than it now is. Obviously, with voters like that audience, this wasn’t a debate that would be won on the merits or demerits of the contestants, but on the prejudices of the audience, who might as well be deaf and dumb.

9: The next question, from Kelly, to candidate Walker, was: “Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion” to which he answered, and the audience applauded:

WALKER: Well, I’m pro-life, I’ve always been pro-life, and I’ve got a position that I think is consistent with many Americans out there in that…


In other words: Yes – and Republican voters applaud that.

10: The next was Chris Wallace to Huckabee, about “social issues,” to which Huckabee responded (assuming that abortion was the topic):

I think the next president ought to invoke the Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the constitution now that we clearly know that that baby inside the mother’s womb is a person at the moment of conception.

The reason we know that it is is because of the DNA schedule that we now have clear scientific evidence on. And, this notion that we just continue to ignore the personhood of the individual is a violation of that unborn child’s Fifth and 14th Amendment rights for due process and equal protection under the law.

Again, from this audience:


In other words: Republican voters overwhelmingly assume that once a sperm-cell meets an egg-cell, there is a two-celled “person” who has “equal protection under the law” with the mother, so that her life and health are no more to be protected than is the mere “potential” of that now-fertilized egg possibly to reach 20+ weeks and so to start to become a consciousness of some sort – a real being. Republicans are that obsessed with mere flesh, and with sheer physical matter, they’re that aspiritual (no matter how religious they are) so that the woman isn’t worth, to them, any more than that unconscious, two-celled, mere fertilized egg. That stupid conviction, just stated by preacher Huckabee, was actually applauded (not booed) by these obtuse people.

11: The next question, by Baier of Paul, was “you recently blamed the rise of ISIS on Republican hawks.” Paul replied, and the audience applauded:

I’ve got a proposal. I’m the leading voice in America for not arming the allies of ISIS.


He ignored Baier’s charge, and was applauded for doing so, presumably not on account of the audience’s sharing his conviction against “Republican hawks,” but instead on the basis of their having ignored what the question actually was, which the candidate had simply evaded answering. Real issues mean nothing to these people.

In other words: Mere slogans win this audience. But the slogans must be ones that repeat things the audience already believes to be true (regardless of the evidence – and this applause had preceded any such).

12: Well, that’s enough. In fact, it’s really too much, though it’s just a few minutes into the debate. So, now I’m happy that Fox News Channel didn’t let people such as I am see the debate. I’m happy that they were so unprecedently grubby as to do that. Oh, and by the way: this debate was apparently an instance when Rupert Murdoch finally laid down the line to his longtime employee, the former Reagan TV guru Roger Ailes, and told him to sink Trump’s candidacy so that Trump won’t get these dumbells’ nomination to represent the Party’s other moneybags.

How much do those candidates despise their audience? And how much are they actually part of their audience? Or, does that make any difference?

Would it even be possible for a decent person to win the Presidential nomination of today’s Republican Party? But one can’t blame only the voters, nor only the funders, nor only the politicians, for this. The Republican Party itself is to blame.


An NBC News Online Survey that was released on the night of August 9th was headlined “Post-Debate Overnight Poll Finds Trump Still Leading Pack; Carly Fiorina Winner of Debates.” It reported that Trump now had the support of “23% of Republican primary voters following the debate,” and that this was a 1% gain for him, from his previous 22% support. There were much bigger gains for Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson. Cruz was now the second behind Trump, with 13%; Carson was now 3rd, with 11%, and Fiorina was 4th, with 8%. Trump’s 23% were then asked “If Donald Trump does not win the Republican nomination for president and runs as an independent candidate, for whom would you vote?” 54% of that 23% answered: “Donald Trump, the independent candidate.” 19% of that 23% answered “The Republican candidate.” 21% of them answered “Depends.” It’s conceivable that Trump might win the Presidency even if Murdoch and his Fox News campaign against him.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.