Sweet home Alabama is the site of the fourth Republican debate tonight (Dec. 6), and oddly the featured attraction isn’t one of the candidates but one of the moderators – Megyn Kelly. Yes, the same Megyn Kelly who asked the future president in 2016 if he deserved to be elected considering his locker-room talk regarding women. But she doesn’t have Donald Trump to kick around this time: Just the bickering field of four candidates at least 40 points behind the man.
Kelly has moderated other presidential debates, and perhaps this is where she avoids attacks, asks thoughtful questions, and keeps herself from being the story. It would be a triumphant comeback for the scrappy lawyer-turned-conservative journalist who forgot the rules of moderator engagement. She’s also optimistic about her cohorts, including NewsNation’s Elizabeth Vargas and The Washington Free Beacon’s Eliana Johnson. “It will be the margarita of debates – spicy, fun, and somewhat intoxicating,” Kelly said. “Looking forward to it.”
Well, alrighty, then.
A Spicy Republican Debate
Kelly incited a frenzy in 2016 by hammering Donald Trump over his “spicy” comments about women and his opponent. She quickly became the cover girl of radical left publications such as Vanity Fair. The It Girl status was short-lived, and her career took a nomadic turn: She bounced from Fox to NBC and landed on SiriusXM.
But it was during a conversation with RealClearPolitics following the third GOP primary showdown that Kelly caught the national news. She called out NBC’s Lester Holt and Kristen Welker for lack of moderating skills: “Malpractice, absolute journalistic malpractice!”
During that event, Vivek Ramaswamy insulted Nikki Haley’s adult daughter, who had a TikTok account. Haley replied by calling him “scum.”
Kelly turned from sleek blond political diva into a scolding schoolmarm:
“And the moderator did not stop to say, ‘Wait, did you just call him scum? Mr. Ramaswamy. Do you care to respond?’ How did that not happen? Because these moderators are too tied to their written questions. They’re not nimble. They are afraid to deviate from what their producers put in front of them. That isn’t good television!”
Perhaps, in 2023, viewers would rather hear political positions expressed while keeping the insult-baiting to a minimum. But that passion and instinct for “good television” brought Kelly right back to this arena, and with or without the presence of Donald Trump, she is still likely to make bigger headlines than the candidates combined.
The Near Great Experiment
The Republican National Committee made a daring choice: a partnership for the fourth debate with a subscription news network. NewsNation, clearly a more conservative organization, as well as Rumble will broadcast the “intoxicating” exchange between Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Chris Christie. Most likely, the change is due to dismal and continual ratings drops when the seemingly unsinkable Trump draws more coverage by holding rallies nationwide. The first debate televised by Fox drew 12.8 million viewers, the second skirmish dropped to 9.5 million, and the third to 7.5 — or a 21% decline. Of course, the polls are out, documenting the apparent apathy of the Republican voter unwilling to consider anyone other than Trump.
But the debate does matter. Haley and DeSantis are, at least in early primary states, battling neck-and-neck. A good showing without the vitriol of Republican debates past could boost either candidate a tiny bit closer to the ultimate brass ring. And with only five weeks until the Iowa caucuses, this is the last chance for the nation to watch and decide for whom to cast the all-important party-faithful ballot.
Has Megyn learned her lesson in attacking someone who can – and will – hit back harder? Perhaps. But let’s decide after seeing whose name is above the fold and splashed across social media platforms once the debate concludes.