It is inevitable, considering how turbulent CNBC’s GOP debate turned out, that Fox Business Network’s debate would serve as foil to that debate, both in execution and in the ensuing moderator reviews. And for a fairly young network striving to establish an authoritative presence for what would be the “most important day in Fox Business Network’s History,” avoiding controversy, however safe that would last night’s debate, was an imperative.
The debate moderators, FBN’s Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo, and Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker, were generally praised for asking substantive questions, but criticized for their lack of follow-up when the responses that followed lacked a corresponding substance. “Together,” writes The New Yorker’s John Cassidy, “the three moderators oversaw a lively, if not always informed, debate centered on economic issues.”
“Fox Business Network’s turn as a GOP debate host was a success, if only because it didn’t seem nearly as chaotic as CNBC’s debate two weeks ago,” wrote Brian Stelter and Dylan Byers in CNN Money.
The good according to The New York Times:
There was no candidate insurrection on stage. The questions — largely, though not entirely, focused on the economy — were unshowy. Candidates were allowed a bit more time to speak, which cut down on squabbles over the clock. There were few gimmicks like an on-screen Twitter feed. And as opposed the last outing, when candidates like Jeb Bush practically vanished onstage, the panel assiduously spread the questions around.
“Less bad, though, does not mean great,” continues James Poniewozik, who criticized moderators mainly for failing to follow up on questions he called “good ones begging for specifics” when candidates didn’t deliver specifics, or an answer that fit the question being asked.
Like the Times, Politico’s Hadas Gold noted that candidates responses often felt like a “series of stump speeches.” The overall affect for Gold was one of caution, leading to:
…a debate that was notably more civil, occasionally enlightening, but also, at many points, dull. There were fewer memorable exchanges than in the earlier debates, all of which were ratings successes, even if the candidates and often the moderators, as well, were pelted with criticism.
“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” was how Cavuto described their pre-debate mindset in an appearance on Fox & Friends this morning. “We wanted it to be a favorable one.”
Risk-taking and favorability is not a comfortable pairing.