Monday’s first presidential debate was billed as a three-ring circus, and every good circus needs a ringmaster. That task fell to moderator Lester Holt — but was he up for it?
Asked to keep the peace between rancorous rivals Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the NBC news anchor brought a cool demeanor and a professorial air to the proceedings. (He even scolded the audience for cheering at one point, like a stern schoolmaster.) Armed with an array of in-depth questions, Holt came across well-informed and levelheaded, despite facing what one pre-debate commentator called “a withering degree of scrutiny.” But anyone who’s followed Holt’s career couldn’t have been surprised by his poise.
This may have been the first general-election presidential debate Holt ever moderated, but it wasn’t his first rodeo: He’s been a TV journalist for three decades, starting out with CBS in 1981. He ably stepped in for the disgraced Brian Williams as the anchor of the NBC Nightly News in February 2015, and has held onto the anchor’s chair ever since. And he did moderate one of this year’s Democratic presidential primary debates, along with Andrea Mitchell, back in January.
During Monday’s debate, Holt mostly stayed out of the spotlight and allowed Trump and Clinton to battle it out — maybe too much, since most topics eventually devolved into back-and-forth bickering. And he did unfortunately get steamrolled more than once by both candidates when trying (and failing) to stick to his agenda. But he also chimed in at times to press both candidates for specifics and keep them on topic when they veered into well-worn talking points.
Holt even directly challenged Trump during a discussion of race and police, reminding him that the New York City “stop and frisk” policy Trump touted was found unconstitutional. Because of that and pointed questions about Trump’s Iraq War stance and “birtherism,” Trump supporters may accuse Holt of pro-Clinton bias. But voting records prove Holt is a registered Republican, so it’s not as if he’s a die-hard liberal. Bottom line: Moderating this debate was a thankless job, but Holt performed admirably under considerable fire.
But that’s just our take. What did you think? Give Lester Holt’s job as moderator a grade in the poll below, then hit the comments to back up your choice.