Conservatives Urge DNC to Let Fox News Host Presidential Debate

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Chris Wallace moderated the Fox News GOP primary debates and October 2016 presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The DNC has 10 more primary debates to award after giving one each to CNN and MSNBC/NBC.

Fox News has not hosted a Democratic presidential debate in more than 15 years. With the 2020 presidential primary season around the corner, the network is hoping to end that streak.

So far, the DNC has awarded the first of 12 sanctioned debates to MSNBC, NBC News and Telemundo (in June) and the second to CNN in July.

Prominent conservatives surveyed at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference are hoping the Democratic National Committee agrees to the "persuasive proposal" Fox News has submitted.

"You would think that if you want to try to win a national election, you would want the entire nation to see what it is that your candidates are offering," said Marc Lotter, the former special assistant to President Donald Trump who now runs strategic communications for his presidential re-election campaign. 

But, Lotter told The Hollywood Reporter, "Given the fact that the Democrat Party has taken such a huge turn towards socialism, probably if you look at where people are typically watching, then it would not be something that most Fox viewers would be supportive of."

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, now a CNN senior political commentator, participated in 20 Republican presidential primary debates for the 2012 election and seven so-called undercard debates for the 2016 election.

"The Republican Party gave debates to MSNBC [in 2012], to all the cable channels," he said. "I think it would be appropriate for the DNC to do the same thing. I think it's ridiculous. This is part of the whole idea that we only want to play with people who agree with us. That's a very bad sign for democracy."

Fox News anchors have lobbied on-air to host a debate, taking advantage of two recent interview opportunities with DNC chair Tom Perez to make sure his organization is considering the network. "Is Fox in the mix for those debates?" Bret Baier asked Perez in late January. "Will Fox News get at least one of the 2020 Democratic primary debates?" Chris Wallace asked him a month later.

At CPAC on Friday, Fox News host Pete Hegseth said only "of course" when asked by THR if his network should get to host a Democratic debate. (A Fox News spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.)

Matt Schlapp, who runs CPAC as head of the American Conservative Union, said the Democrats "can do it their own way" and don't have to match what the Republican National Committee has done in past elections.

But, he said it would make sense for the DNC to consider a Fox News debate hosted by someone from the straight news side of the company, rather than the opinion side.

"If they can get that side of the house, just the straight journalists, then I think that's something they really ought to look at," Schlapp said. 

He suggested Baier, host of a 6 p.m. news show, as a potential host. "I know him well," he said. "I think he would be very fair. I actually don't know what his politics are."

The political organization that will make the decision, the DNC, is staying mum about the process, though Perez told Baier that "we're having discussions with Fox" back in January.

"We're talking to cable and broadcast networks and a whole host of outlets, including digital outlets," a DNC spokesperson said last week. "A number of outlets have submitted proposals, and we're looking at those proposals."

The decision is not an easy one. Progressives have already chafed at the possibility of doing business with a conservative television network reviled on the political left, though 2020 candidates Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand have recently sat for interviews.

Wallace, in pushing back on Perez last month, urged him to make (recent) history. "You know what would also be unprecedented?" he asked Perez. "Giving us a debate." Not tipping his hand, Perez replied, "Well, we'll see about that."