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Kristen Welker was the real winner of the final presidential debate

  • The NBC News White House correspondent drew widespread and bipartisan praise from liberals and conservatives, including from President Trump himself. First presidential debate moderator Chris Wallace said he was "jealous" of how well Welker's debate went. “I would have liked to have been able to moderate that debate and to get a real exchange of views instead of hundreds of interruptions," he said on Fox News. Vice presidential debate moderator Susan Page, who like Wallace was criticized for failing to reign in the candidates, tweeted: "Kudos to @kwelkernbc for a job well done tonight, and a service to our nation." "In a high-stakes debut overseeing a presidential debate — taking charge of a candidate matchup that proved a bucking bronco for the previous moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News — Ms. Welker, an NBC anchor and correspondent, managed to restore order to a quadrennial institution that some believed could not be tamed,' says The New York Times' Michael M. Grynbaum. "No doubt, she benefited from Trump 2.0: A calmer president arrived onstage Thursday, a contrast with the candidate who derailed the proceedings in Cleveland last month. And she had a technological assist in the form of muted microphones, a novelty installed to keep the exchanges between Mr. Trump and his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., from going from civics to chaos. But in a poised and crisp performance, Ms. Welker, 44, succeeded where Mr. Wallace was walloped. Battle tested by years of covering the Trump White House, she parried with the president and cut him off as needed; Mr. Trump, eager to shed voters’ memories of his unruly performance last month, mostly acquiesced. Ms. Welker, the first Black woman to moderate a general-election presidential debate since Carole Simpson of ABC in 1992, entered the evening facing an onslaught of attacks from Mr. Trump, who this week called her 'terrible.' His aides dredged up her parents’ political donations in an effort to accuse her of bias; a photograph of her with Barack Obama at a White House holiday party emerged on right-wing websites. (Her attendance at Mr. Trump’s equivalent party in 2017 went unmentioned.) Little of the pressure showed onscreen. Ms. Welker was polite but firm in guiding the discussion, offering chances for brief rebuttals but also taking control when the candidates threatened to go on a harangue, repeatedly urging, 'We need to move on.'" Vox's Dylan Matthews added: "Moderating a debate with as mendacious a liar as Trump is almost impossibly difficult, and Welker wasn’t perfect at holding him to account. But she did quite well overall, and managed to perform in a way that both Biden and Trump supporters agreed was fair — an almost miraculous achievement."


    • Kristen Welker saved presidential debates, but the debate format still needs to change: "Now let us praise Kristen Welker, the NBC journalist who will, deservedly, be credited with saving the televised presidential debate format from its certain descent into hell with her capable, assured moderating skills on Thursday evening — and with some (alleged) help from a new but perhaps only theoretical mute button that turned out to be more threat than tool," says Hank Stuever. "(It didn’t seem to come with a finger willing to press it more than once or twice.) Welker won Thursday night’s final presidential debate the old-fashioned way, with her professional demeanor, tough questions and a determination, dang it, to get the leader of the free world to play by the rules. It was Welker’s good fortune (to say nothing of masochist viewers who tuned into the debate) that President Trump mostly complied for several stretches at a time. The belligerent, probably infectious chaos agent who ruined his first debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden on Sept. 29 instead used Thursday’s debate to work on his trademark smirk and the chronic display of RSB (Resting Bitch Face) that he saves for those rare occasions when he is forced to listen rather than speak." Stuever adds: "As both a work of television and occasion to inform voters, debates are still the worst. It’s hard anymore to remember on a Friday what happened on a Tuesday, but one hopes that we’ll always remember how 2020 taught us that televised events should be malleable in format. There’s a real art to virtual connection and interaction — as seen with recent live award shows and the political conventions, and it’s too bad we didn’t get to try it in this election."
    • MSNBC's Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow say Trump owes Kristen Welker an apology after a week of attacking her: Trump described Welker in the days before the debate as “crooked,” “terrible,” a “radical left Democrat,” “totally partisan,” “totally biased,” “unfair” and a “disaster.” “Somebody owes our colleague Kristin Welker an apology,” Williams said at the conclusion of the debate. “She’s owed an apology by the president, who attacked her over and over and over again heading into this event tonight,” Maddow agreed. “Trying to work the refs, trying to intimidate her. Clearly Kristen Welker was not intimidated. She is owed an apology. But I think she is owed congratulations by the country. I think if there was a clear winner from this debate tonight, I would argue it was, in fact, Kristen Welker, who did an incredibly professional, cogent, coherent job.”
    • Welker may as well have been wielding Wonder Woman’s protective shield when she finally faced off with her tormentor: "The seasoned Washington reporter appeared unscathed by his attacks," says Lorraine Ali. "A picture of composure and professionalism, she clearly had no intention of being anyone’s scapegoat and Trump got the message. It was a drastic change of tone for the president who during the first debate bellowed over Biden and moderator Chris Wallace for 90 ear-bending minutes. This time around he’d perhaps been chastened by the scathing reviews of his performance or the poor ratings and poll numbers that followed."
    • Welker, who was good but not spectacular, was aided by the low bar set by Chris Wallace: "The most truthful, non-sarcastic, congratulations of the night probably should go to NBC News' Kristen Welker, who surely owes Chris Wallace an edible arrangement of some sort," says Daniel Fienberg. "Because even though anybody who watched the last 40 minutes primarily saw cross-talk, interruption and question evasion with none of the 'muting' promised by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the first 50 minutes were, indeed, pretty clean. I would say Welker was a good (not spectacular) moderator, but since Wallace was — sorry, sir — the low bar against whom all future debate moderators will be measured, she looked like a model of decorum and order. Welker stopped Trump when he tried to interrupt and several times when he started to be digressive. She attempted to be rigorous with Biden's requests for follow-up response time. And she even asked tough questions of both men, whether it was anything requiring Trump to speak in complete sentences and articulate plans for anything or pushing Biden to clarify his position on the 1994 Crime Bill and whether he did or didn't say he opposes fracking."
    • Voters finally got a debate that did what it was supposed to do: "Thursday’s event actually resembled a typical presidential debate from prior election seasons," says Tyler Hersko. "That’s not necessarily high praise, but after the thoroughly embarrassing affair that was the first Biden-Trump bout several weeks ago, expectations for Thursday’s event were rock bottom. Indeed, many of the issues that have plagued the 2020 election season, from the promotion of various conspiracy theories to incessant finger-pointing — Biden and Trump wasted too much time on arguing about which candidate was more paid off by foreign governments — and bizarre tangents — Trump claimed that only undocumented immigrants 'with the lowest IQ' show up for their immigration court hearings and also expressed concern that windmills were killing all of the birds — were front and center during Thursday’s debate. That said, most of the night’s topics were covered in sufficient detail, each candidate was given time to present their ideas to the audience, and Biden and Trump responded to one another without the event devolving into mind-numbing noise. If nothing else, at least voters got at least one 2020 presidential debate that did the thing it was supposed to do."
    • Trump likely benefitted from being aware of the mute button, which saved him from himself
    • There were no plexiglass barriers on the final debate stage in contrast to the vice presidential debate
    • Please don't let Trump's "good"/"go ahead" turn into the next "yanny"/"laurel"
    • This was likely Trump's final debate -- he probably wouldn't be president without them: "Across more than 20 debates in five years, Trump has redefined presidential debates, turning the relatively boring deliberations into confusing entertainment," says Matt Berman. "He very possibly wouldn’t be president without them: They’re the format that first put a celebrity on the same level as a handful of senators and governors and gave him the leeway to tell America that he was in control of our attentions now and would take things from there."
    • How the language of Fox News invaded the final debate: "During the final presidential debate, President Trump made reference to 'the laptop from hell,' 'AOC plus three' and 'Russia, Russia, Russia' — yes, said three times in a row," Elahe Izadi and Jeremy Barr write in The Washington Post. "The material was very familiar to — and maybe only familiar to — regular viewers of Fox News opinion hosts such as Sean Hannity." “I feel like he almost was speaking the language of Fox prime time,” Meet the Press host Chuck Todd said on NBC after the debate. “If you watch a lot of Fox prime time, you understand what he’s saying. If you don’t you have no idea.” Izadi and Barr add: "It was a point made over and over again across networks as political commentators and journalists wondered aloud whether Trump’s attacks on former vice president Joe Biden flew over the heads of many Americans who aren’t regular consumers of conservative television, radio and websites...The president borrowed from Hannity’s nightly themes and even copied the same phrases the opinion host uses on his daily radio and TV shows. Trump accused Biden of 'hiding in his basement,' something that Hannity viewers hear on a very regular basis — even as the former vice president has made more and more in-person campaign stops over the past few weeks."

    TOPICS: Kristen Welker, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Brian Williams, Chris Wallace, Joe Biden, Rachel Maddow, Susan Page, 2020 Presidential Election, Commission on Presidential Debates, NBC News, Trump Presidency