Following the fourth 2024 Republican presidential debate, the “big three” of ABC, CBS, and NBC shrugged Thursday morning not only at the notion they matter, but showed varying degrees of rage over the fact that the debate helmed by NewsNation’s Elizabeth Vargas, SiriusXM’s Megyn Kelly, and the Free Beacon’s Eliana Johnson wasn’t dominated by questions about Donald Trump and instead beset with pesky policy issues (like, say, the economy and Israel).
ABC’s Good Morning America was disgusted. Co-host and former Clinton official George Stephanopoulos falsely claimed Trump only came up from “time to time” and was “hardly mentioned after [he] said he would govern like a dictator on the first day”.
A search of the transcript shows “Trump” and “former President” came up a combined 53 times and, with answers like these from Chris Christie, Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL), and Nikki Haley, it’s utter hogwash.
Chief congressional correspondent Rachel Scott stuck to the same script: “He may not have been on the debate stage, but these candidates had plenty of opportunities to go after...former President Donald Trump. Instead they targeted each other. The attacks turning ugly.”
Scott also swooned over Christie fixating on Trump and attacking DeSantis, which squared with ABC’s personal hatred for the man who put their parent company Disney in place (click “expand”):
SCOTT: Christie coming out swinging against his rivals, repeatedly calling out Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for not giving direct answers. First to a question on whether he would send U.S. troops into Israel to secure the release of American hostages.
SCOTT: Then, on a question whether Donald Trump is mentally fit to be president.
SCOTT: Trump, of course, was not on the debate stage. And only one candidate sounding the alarm after the former President said he would govern like a dictator on the first day of his second term.
CHRISTIE: Do I think he was kidding when he said he was a dictator? All you have to do is look at the history. And that’s why failing to speak out against him, making excuses for him, pretending that somehow he’s a victim empowers him.
SCOTT: Governor DeSantis suggesting those comments from Trump should not be taken seriously[.]
Stephanopoulos turned to chief Washington correspondent and three-time anti-Trump author Jonathan Karl with an almost celebratory line: “[A]nother debate, another 90 minutes or so where Donald Trump is largely unscathed.”
Karl — who needs Trump to stick around to keep the gravy train alive — blasted DeSantis, Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy for still living in “twilight zones” because they “ignore[d] the fundamental fact of this primary, which is that Donald Trump has taken over the Republican Party and the party is on the verge of nominating somebody who may well be a convicted felon by Election Day” and “running on a campaign vowing to use the power of the presidency to go after his enemies.”
“That was almost nonexistent on that stage as they fought over these narrow issues,” Karl added.
Ah, yes, “narrow issues” like Americans struggling to put food on the table, buy a house, and pay down loans while showing concern about illegal immigration.
Stephanopoulos then condescendingly added that “[i]t’s hard to think how much these debates even matter any more.”
Karl again gushed over his former ABC colleague: “Chris Christie, I thought, had a significant moment there, several significant moments. He’s clearly comfortable in being somebody who is not only not afraid to offend Donald Trump. He is not afraid to offend Donald Trump’s supporters, Donald Trump voters.”
On CBS Mornings, socialist co-host Tony Dokoupil had the same talking points, lamenting “most of [Trump’s] Republican rivals” were “reluctant to criticize him” and whining the four candidates who actually showed up to face questions “spent a lot of time slamming each other, more time doing that than criticizing” Trump.
He even went as far as to disgustingly suggest to Liz Cheney what he didn’t “want to really talk about the debate because I actually think the debate is beneath the significance of” her book’s thesis, which is defeating Trump should be the number one issue for voters.
“[T]his slide towards dictatorship, this idea that Donald Trump does not follow the Constitution, does not believe in the Constitution, and, if he’s in power again, he will tear the Constitution in two. My worry is that nobody who needs to hear that message is actually listening,” he fretted.
Elsewhere, chief elections and campaign correspondent Robert Costa cheered Christie and Haley (click “expand”):
COSTA: It was a revealing night here in Alabama. Some tough attacks on former President Donald Trump. But it’s clear most of these rivals see Nikki Haley as a real, emerging threat to their own chances. A high stake and combative showdown in the Deep South.
COSTA: And there were tense exchanges about the Republican frontrunner and the question of whether Donald Trump is fit for office.
[CHRISTIE VS. DESANTIS CLIPS]
COSTA: Christie, with a maverick-style campaign, and a focus on the New Hampshire primary, took the sharpest line on Trump.
CHRISTIE: Do I think he was kidding when he said he was a dictator? All you have to do is look at the history. [SCREEN WIPE] You wanna know why those poll numbers are where they are? Because folks like these three guys on the stage make it seem like his conduct is acceptable.
TRUMP AD NARRATOR: Weak leaders
COSTA: But Trump, who has a commanding lead in the polls, has been concentrating on President Biden with a new attack ad released during the debate.
NBC’s Today went down the same path, starting with co-host Hoda Kotb in a tease boasting of “Christie going after the absent frontrunner and challenging his rivals to do the same.”
Capitol Hill correspondent Garrett Haake hinted nothing mattered since “time is running out for the four candidates on stage last night to change the dynamics” even though “Christie call[ed] out his fellow candidates for ignoring their party’s dominant frontrunner.”
The most ironic part of the post-debate coverage — on any network — came next when Meet the Press moderator Kristen Welker scoffed at the debates as pointless and devoid of sufficient Trump talk.
GUTHRIE: They’re going to either lay a glove on [Trump] or they’re not. So, did they?
WELKER: They didn’t, Savannah. In fact, Chris Christie was, yet again, the only candidate who decided to take direct aim at former President Donald Trump. The other candidates, time and time again, had the chance to and declined to directly go after him. You saw a great example there in Garrett’s piece where Ron DeSantis was asked if he’s fit to serve for office. He kind of danced around that question, didn’t directly engage. Instead, what we saw was a pile-on on Nikki Haley. But, again, that allows the frontrunner, the person who is nearly 30 points ahead in Iowa, to go unscathed. And, without seeing these candidates collectively and directly go after former President Trump, it’s hard to see anything changes. And, taking a step back, Savannah, again, this is the fourth debate that Trump has decided not to attend. It hasn’t hurt him. If anything, it’s only emboldened him.
GUTHRIE: I mean, if you add up the candidates on the stage, put them all, it still doesn’t add up to Trump’s lead in some of these polls.
WELKER: Well, what we saw was this all-out attempt to take on Nikki Haley, who has been surging in the polls, particularly when it comes to Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. The two of them are kind of vying for second place, but is this anything more than a fight for second place? That remains to be seen.