Fox News proved the Republican presidential primary is more than former President Donald Trump, as nearly 13 million viewers tuned in for the first candidates debate on Aug. 23.
Will the audience come back for more? Trump, leading the pack for the GOP nomination while facing four criminal indictments won’t be on the stage again when the candidates meet Wednesday at 9 p.m. Eastern time at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. (Fox News and Fox Business Network will carry the event with a Spanish-language feed airing on Univision.)
There will be two first-timers at the moderator desk with Stuart Varney, who anchors the daily Fox Business Network program “Varney & Co.,” and Dana Perino, a co-host of Fox News shows “The Five” and “America’s Newsroom,” serving up questions. They will be joined by Ilia Calderón, the evening news anchor for Univision, who was part of a 2012 Democratic primary debate.
The sharp-tongued British-born Varney steps in after Fox Business used anchors Maria Bartiromo and Neil Cavuto for its previous candidate debates. (While Fox News did not state a reason for the change, Bartiromo is a central figure in the defamation cases it has faced regarding its reporting on Trump’s false claims of election fraud during the 2020 election.)
The network settled with Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million while another case is pending involving voting machine company Smarmatic.
Varney, 75, has been a part of cable news since Ted Turner first threw the on-switch at CNN in 1980. In the 1990s, he had a stint as the co-anchor of the network’s “Moneyline,” alongside Willow Bay, now head of USC’s journalism school and wife of Walt Disney Co. chairman Bob Iger. Varney left CNN in 2001 and moved to Fox News in 2004.
While Varney has evolved from a straight business anchor to a conservative commentator on Fox Business, he does not treat Republicans nearly as gently as other Fox News hosts who share his political leanings.
After Trump’s announcement for his 2024 candidacy for the White House, Varney offered a harsh critique to his guest — the former president’s daughter-in-law Lara.
“Those of us on the outside looking at it, it didn’t seem that he got the old magic, you know what I mean?” Varney said. After Lara Trump disagreed, Varney went on to say that the former president would struggle in a general election contest.
The exchange shows that Varney is capable of creating a viral moment during the proceedings Wednesday. In a recent conversation, the late-blooming moderator offered some thoughts on what to expect.
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