Donald Trump's Campaign Manager on First Debate: Lester Holt Did a "Great Job"

THR Lester Holt 030916_LESTERHOLT_0250 - H 2016
Meredith Jenks

THR Lester Holt 030916_LESTERHOLT_0250 - H 2016

"I thought he did a great job as the moderator under tough circumstances," said Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager.

Lester Holt has survived what may have been the most pressurized, scrutinized presidential debate in recent history. And the NBC anchor earned high marks from the pundit-sphere as well as Donald Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. 

“Conservatives should agree” that Holt “did a very fine job moderating,” wrote conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt on Twitter, noting that Holt “pushed on [the] birther issue and Iraq war but gave plenty of time.”

The Columbia Journalism Review Twitter feed noted that Holt went “in for the kill with a follow-up” on Trump’s record of fanning the birther conspiracy about President Obama’s birth certificate. Of course, supporters of Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly praised Holt, since many feel their candidate won the debate. 

And the television news punditry seemed to agree. “This was the most abnormal event I’ve ever witnessed,” noted Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and Meet the Press moderator. “[Trump] was over-reactive he was filled with emotion. I think as this night wore on it became tougher and tougher for Trump, and it exposed his lack of preparation.”

Noted Fox News contributor Juan Williams: “I think there’s no question Donald Trump was on the defensive. I’m sure he will go after pundits like us and the mainstream media alike.” 

Williams added that Trump was very effective in denouncing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, trade deals being a red meat issue for Trump supporters. But he missed an opportunity to exploit Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. On CNN a poll of viewers who watched the debate – a group CNN political director David Challian admitted skewed slightly Democrat – overwhelmingly gave the debate to Clinton with 62 percent, compared with 27 percent for Trump. 

One narrative that emerged post-debate was that Trump might skip the next two debates. On MSNBC, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta asserted that “it's possible” that Trump could bail on a planned town hall debate Oct. 9 to be co-moderated by Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz. “It’s hard for me to believe that [Trump] would want to leave this as his last impression for voters,” mused Rachel Maddow

And Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, seemed to throw cold water on a Trump no-show. When asked on CNN how Holt did, Conway said, “I thought he did a great job as the moderator under tough circumstances.” Calling the event the “clash of the titans,” she did have one quibble: that Holt did not bring up Clinton’s email issue. But, she added, “I’m glad that Mr. Trump raised her emails, because it wasn’t being raised otherwise.”

Clinton's email received a thorough examination by Holt's colleague Matt Lauer during a Sept. 7 forum, something that prompted complaints from Clinton supporters and kudos from Trump partisans. And Trump himself seemed to offer a tepid endorsement. In the spin room at Hofstra University after the debate, Trump declared it was a “great experience” and promised to be at subsequent debates set for October. But he also implied that he may have been sabotaged by a faulty microphone. "It was softer than Hillary's," he said. "I wonder. Was that on purpose?"