The question of what the role of a moderator is in a presidential debate has taken on a whole new significance during this election because Donald Trump, more so than any candidate in American history, has shown a willingness to lie, boldly and without apology, when he feels it suits him.
His ability to say, with a straight face, obvious lies that a typical human would find impossible due to a profound sense of shame make his appearance on the debate stage a singular moment in history.
Matt Lauer recently held what was billed as the “preview” of the debates with a one-on-one sit down with both candidates for an extended question-and-answer session. While Lauer grilled Clinton on her voting record and on (*sigh*) the emails, when it came time to question Trump he turned into a doormat.
Critics slammed the embarrassing way Lauer allowed Trump to lie to his face without any pushback. In one particularly blatant example, Trump falsely claimed that he had been opposed to the Iraq War from the very beginning, an easily debunked lie that Lauer was surely aware of.
The debates, many Americans hoped, would be different. If Trump chooses to openly lie to voters during the events, moderators should be expected to jump in and clarify the falsehoods.
Needless to say, the person making the most noise about this change of plans is…Donald Trump.
In an interview with Fox News, Trump claimed there would be people “watching” for moderators to fact check him and would react badly if he wasn’t allowed to say whatever he wanted.
First, Trump slammed Candy Crawley, who famously corrected Mitt Romney during a debate with President Obama. It has often been seen as a pivotal moment in that debate and the real-time fact check threw Romney off of his game for the rest of the night.
Trump would prefer he and Clinton get a chance to fight it out without interference, even if what he is saying are lies.
You know, I think there’s a lot of pressure on [first debate moderator Lester Holt]. I think Lester’s a very good person, a very good man. I think there’s a lot of pressure on him. You know, when I had the town hall, last week with Hillary, I did well, and I had tough questions. But the polls all had her taking a drubbing….They went after Matt Lauer, and I’ve never seen anything like it….That’s what they’re doing with Lester Holt…and a lot of people are watching to see whether he succumbs to that pressure.
The difference between Trump’s camp and Clinton’s couldn’t be more apparent here. While Democrats are demanding the truth be the focal point of the night, conservatives – including Trump himself – are telling moderators that they should not worry about what is a lie and what isn’t.
As the Washington Post’s Greg Sergent noted:
In other words, one side wants the moderators to hold the candidates accountable, and the other doesn’t. We can argue endlessly over whether those in the former camp are trying to game the debates so that Trump faces tougher questioning than Clinton does. But the bottom line is that, given that it is simply true that Trump lies a lot more frequently, audaciously, and egregiously than Clinton does, and that it took many months before this was widely acknowledged in the press, most Clinton supporters would probably be just fine with equivalent treatment of both of their assertions at the debate, and if they aren’t, they should be.
Republicans want Trump to lie. Democrats simply want both sides to tell the truth. It’s rare in politics to find such a clear contrast.
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