Lester Holt Walked A Fine Line of Fact-Checking and Letting Trump Reveal Himself

ABC’s Lester Holt deserves major cred for his almost perfect performance as a debate moderator during the first presidential debate.

Holt started off clearly nervous, the way someone who understands the daunting task in front of them should be. But then he took control of the debate in the broader sense of forcing the debate to do its actual job, that is to inform the people, and he never relented.

While Holt let Donald Trump interrupt Hillary Clinton 51 times last night, in doing so he also let the Republican nominee reveal his bullying nature to the nation.

This could have been an accident, but Holt’s preparation and strategic decisions about how to best inform the nation are exemplified by his acute preparation. Holt had follow up questions for Donald Trump when Trump delivered one of his already debunked lies.

The decision to let Trump be Trump within reason seems to have been made in service of the job – that is, to let the candidates reveal themselves. This is a tremendously rare accomplishment and requires a nimble, prepared moderator who has run decisions through what best serves the voters.

Holt was respectful but grounded in reality and unwilling to move to accommodate either candidate. Only Trump asked Holt to abandon reality, and only Trump repeatedly lied to Holt and the nation.

What Lester Holt pulled off was night and day from Matt Lauer’s horrible performance during the Commander-In-Chief forum, during which he repeatedly let Trump lie while he deferred to Donald Trump, failed to use follow up questions on Trump’s most obvious and well known lies, treating Trump as if he deserved the benefit of the doubt, while talking over Hillary Clinton, chiding her, and sneering at her as she told him the truth.

People who watched Donald Trump shout at and over Hillary Clinton are obviously upset, especially women who recognize the inherent sexism in Trump’s behavior, as this kind of behavior harms our children. But Lester Holt did not engage in that behavior. Rather, Holt made a choice to let Donald Trump repeatedly interrupt Clinton and talk over her — a, he might not have had much choice but b, this is who Donald Trump is.

And that is the point of debates.

The debates exist to introduce the nation to the candidates, how they perform under stress, how they feel and see the world, their policies, their attitudes– all of these things are relevant. Last night the nation met Donald Trump the bully, in case they had missed it before.

Hillary Clinton was able to motivate Democratic base and still appeal to independent voters, while Trump was unable to expand his tent. This says everything about the current state of the two parties, and about the political skill of the two candidates.

Lester Holt’s approach revealed that Hillary Clinton could run the room to the extent that a skilled negotiator and diplomat can do — even without interrupting the other person or consistently going over her time. Though when she needed to, Clinton took her time and talked over Trump as he yapped at her during her allotted time like a defensive child.

Clinton was able to display her command of the issues and her command of Donald Trump, because again, Holt allowed both candidates to reveal their true natures. Clinton is a leader, but also a strategic person who knows how to set up an opponent.

Clinton set up Trump with easy bait that he took over and over again. Trump is so easy to play because his ego is so fragile. This is why Putin plays Trump so easily; Trump’s ego is easily exploitable by those who wish to best him.

Hillary Clinton proved that last night after Trump was thrown off of his game by her mentioning the millions he got from his father.

Lester Holt had to make quick decisions last night and he did it vigilantly, the way an intelligent and prepared person who comes with a specific talent for his job can do. Holt didn’t fall for the limited ideas of the intellectually stunted; that is, he didn’t fall for “equal” over “fair”. He didn’t peddle false equivalencies. He asked tough questions of both candidates and let them stumble or close the deal.

We shouldn’t expect the rest of the debates to do their job as well as this one did because not everyone can be Lester Holt. The nation was informed last night, and that is such a rarity in this cycle that it is uplifting and inspiring on its own.