GOP debate moderator: Trump should trade one-liners for substance

Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo
Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo

Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo says the time of one-liners is over for the 2016 presidential candidates.

Voters want more specifics with less than three weeks until the Iowa caucus that kicks off primary season, said Bartiromo, who will moderate a GOP presidential debate Thursday night in North Charleston.

That is most important Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who has deflected calls to share details of his plans with quips.

“We’re going to see voters putting money where their mouths are,” she told The State. “We have been basing everything on polls. Now we’ll see some reality.”

The two or so hours of the political debate you see on TV are just a fraction of what’s become an all-day event for the candidates and the journalists. McClatchy Washington bureau Political Editor Steve “Buzz” Thomma goes behind the scenes of a po

But the use of polls to decide who gets a prime-time debate podium versus a spot in the dinner-time undercard event has generated grumbles from some candidates, who see themselves at a disadvantage. Seven of the 11 qualifying candidates will appear on the main stage Thursday.

Bartiromo spoke about that controversy and other issues ahead of the Thursday debates, which start at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m..:

What do think about Donald Trump’s rise atop the polls?

“He's resonating for real reasons. He resonating because people are sick and tired of the PC. ... But at the end of the day voters want substance and they want real solutions. And so the one-liners can take you so far. We’re getting into critical period right now. It’s game time. ... Voters are going to demand to hear specifics in terms of what the proposals are, how to move the needle on the economy, how to keep the country safe. I think the one thing Donald Trump has done, which is a positive, is that he’s made this election exciting, and he’s made people come out and get interested.”

Is it fair to ask the candidates about their tone or style in the campaign rather than just their stances on issues?

“I think this election is about leadership. And I think leadership encompasses a lot. It encompasses issues and strategies around those issues. It encompasses how you react to things. I think that encompasses personality. It encompasses body language. The way you handle yourself and the way you behave is part of it.”

Is there a better way of handling the debates with the large field so it’s more fair to all the candidates?

“I think it's hard because what you want is a rich debate amongst all of the candidates and you really want to have an opportunity to hear enough from each of them and not like sound-bite situations. You don't want to have all of them on the stage at once because that eliminates the chance of going deeper and drilling down.”

Some current and former candidates, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have suggested a random draw to split the debate fields. What do you think about that?

“When you've got such glaring numbers in terms of who's resonating based on the polls, I think you have to respect that, right? I do think you have to respect what the people want. And if the people are saying, ‘Look these are the folks that we believe are most poised,’ it's about the audience. I don't think it's up to us to say, ‘Let's throw everybody in a fishbowl and pick them out.’ I think it's about the American people who they want to see up there and who they see as the next leader.”

National security has become the top issue among GOP voters. Has the economy taken a backseat?

“I think we have to remember where we are right now. Let's face it we have begun the new year with the worst stock market performance in history. ... Obviously people are worried about something. And so I think there is a persistent concern on the part of the American people about the economy and about their jobs. I don't think that you can say anymore, not after the last two weeks, that the economy is in the backseat."

GOP presidential debate

When: 9 p.m. Thursday; the “undercard” debate begins at 6 p.m.

Where: North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center

TV: Fox Business Network