Assessments of Rachel Maddow‘s and Chuck Todd‘s performance as moderators during last night’s MSNBC debate were centered positively around the absence of their presence. “It was easy to forget the moderators, Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow, were even there tonight. They asked the questions and let the candidates go at it. It was the model for all political debates,” wrote Taegan Goddard at Political Wire.
Politico’s Hadas Gold touched on those same points, writing that the pair “wisely decided to step aside and let the action flow.”
And over at The Fix, Chris Cillizza explained the benefits of this approach: “The whole point of a debate is to figure out where the differences are and how each candidate explains those differences, not to try to see who can ask the most questions. Todd and Maddow got out of the way of the candidates tonight, which is exactly what good moderators should do.”
“This one was different for one reason,” says Todd in a video explaining how the moderators and their teams prepped for the debate. “We usually took what takes about a month of preparation, and we did it in five days.”
And in that short time, a result of the improvised, impromptu way this debate came into being, Maddow and Todd made the intentional decision to stay in the background.
“Chuck and I worked really deliberately on trying to come up with a way that we could moderate this debate without participating in it ourselves, basically by setting them up to have these conversations that they’ve been having by proxy…and instead doing them face-to-face,” Maddow told Chris Matthews in a post-debate debriefing.
And the initial reactions on Twitter last night were equally laudatory:
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) February 5, 2016
Maddow tonight again shows why openly opinionated journalists (as long as they're not total hacks) are massively superior moderators
— pareene (@pareene) February 5, 2016
— Cate Martel (@CateMartel) February 5, 2016
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) February 5, 2016
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) February 5, 2016
— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) February 5, 2016
MSNBC moderators should get credit for knowing when not to interrupt candidates. They're letting them debate, and that is what public wants.
— Michael Howard Saul (@MichaelHwrdSaul) February 5, 2016
The criticism that existed was largely centered around the choice of questions, especially on what was left out:
Things @MSNBC did not ask about:
2) Climate Change
Things they did ask about:
1) The damn emails
2) Some random ad.
— Ian Millhiser (@imillhiser) February 5, 2016
— Lizz Winstead (@lizzwinstead) February 5, 2016
Although some, mainly from the conservative press, took issue with the fact that Maddow hugged Sanders and Clinton at the end of the debate.
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) February 5, 2016