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Fox News’ Martha MacCallum Says Trump’s Refusal to Debate ‘May Have Had a Positive Impact’

Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum spoke to the network’s preparation for Tuesday’s New Hampshire Republican Primary, saying that Donald Trump’s decision to not take the debate stage “may have had a positive impact for him.”

“Those of us who moderated debates would have really liked to see him on stage, as much as these other candidates really wanted the opportunity to show contrast,” MacCallum told TheWrap.

But this race is different, MacCallum said. “This is not an open field. It’s a quasi-incumbent running who is very difficult to run against, even given all of the complicated background around the former president.”

MacCallum noted how massive of an impact that has on the state of the race, and why Trump has “looked at the debate environment and said, ‘I don’t have to do that.’”

However, ahead of Tuesday’s primary, MacCallum says there is still a long way to go in this race.

Currently the anchor and executive editor of “The Story with Martha MacCallum,” the Fox News anchor joined the network in 2004 and has been covering presidential races for a long time.

MacCallum told TheWrap that she is looking forward to getting out to New Hampshire, where she will be speaking to voters on the ground and attending several campaign events.

“We’ll get a feel on the ground for how people feel there,” MacCallum said. “New Hampshire is always full of surprises.”

MacCallum spoke to TheWrap in-depth about her perspective on the primary race thus far, how Fox News is preparing to cover a race of this nature, and whether Trump’s decision not to engage has improved his standing.

The last time we chatted was just prior to the first debate of this primary season. I’m wondering from your perspective, what has changed in this race since then? 

Well, we had a lot more candidates back then. It’s interesting, I was thinking about that debate today because I remembered that we started it with a bit of music from the performer who did a song called ‘Rich Men North of Richmond.’ And I was thinking about Governor DeSantis and his response to that and how at that moment he was in the center of the stage and how much has really been upended by what we’ve seen now that people are starting to vote.

We’ve only had one primary. I know people like to draw a lot of conclusions this early on, but I would sort of caution that. Obviously, the person who was never on stage for the debates, the former president, is in a very strong position, a very strong poll position, very strong national position. He really did well in Iowa, looks to do well in New Hampshire, and is also well-positioned in South Carolina. So I’ve been doing this long enough to know that you have to kind of measure your temptation to wrap it up.

I see these candidates up close and their families and how much they put into this and how emotional of it is for them. There’s a reason why not a lot of people want to run for President of the United States. It is very grueling, very hard on families. And so these decisions to get in or stay out …They’re huge for these people, and for their donors, and for all the people who’ve been working for them. So these are very highly charged moments in this space.

What kind of preparation is being made by you in the Fox politics team to ensure this is a successful election cycle from the media standpoint?

We do what we always do. I mean, we do our homework. We double-check our questions every which way. We have a lot of experience. We have been number one in covering elections for a very long time, but you can never take that for granted. You have to kick the tires and you have to do your homework, and you have to double-check everything. That’s what we’re doing this time around, our process is no different. it’s important we know the role that we play in communicating with voters in the country during an important election cycle. So that’s why we work hard, and that’s why I think we’ve managed to hold the attention and trust of our viewers all these years.

I wanted to touch on Nikki Haley’s decision not to attend debates last week because Trump wasn’t attending. Do you think that has an impact on her performance in New Hampshire and beyond or was it always Trump’s race to lose?

I’m not privy to her decision about not doing the debate against DeSantis in New Hampshire, but she I think would have been saying she wants to focus on Trump. This is a race against him at this point. And, you know, she appears to be in second. So I think that her choice is to say, she’s leaving DeSantis behind and she wants to run against Trump.

Is it too late for that tactic? Should she have started going against Trump earlier? Would that have improved her polling?

I think there’s gonna be a lot of reflection and discussion about that. I think that it could be said that they were always in a tough position, these other candidates because they didn’t want to alienate the Trump voter, and yet they wanted to offer something new.

The interesting thing is you have all these consultants involved and people making lots of money on these campaigns. But the center of every campaign, is whether or not the candidate is connecting with voters. That job of convincing Republican voters that they need to move on, they’re still trying to articulate that. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, and I want to be cautious, anything can happen and often does. They have continued to make their argument that it’s time to turn the page and there have been a lot of voters that resonated with that but in Iowa wasn’t enough. We’ll see what happens in New Hampshire, we could get a surprise.

I also wanted to touch on the town hall last week with Trump. I’m wondering how you think that may have impacted voters’ decisions, but also simply, whether his attitude has changed throughout the cycle.

I think that on the night of the town hall we saw a candidate and front-runner in the former President Donald Trump that we haven’t seen all that often. I thought he came in there with a very kind of different, earnest demeanor, and he wasn’t throwing bombs at anybody. He was saying that retribution was not really what he was going to be focused on because they were going to be too busy with his administration doing good things. He pushed back on the idea that he had any intention to be a dictator, which gets a lot of press out there. He said he wanted to secure the border, which obviously is a popular idea with voters. I think that his tone was very different. He did not talk about a rigged or stolen election at all during the entire hour. I don’t know that you could go back and find it an hour when he hasn’t brought it up since all of that happened back in 2020. I think he wants to broaden his appeal and we’ll see if it works.

There have been a few names circulating as Trump’s running mate if he wins the nomination. Do you think that any of the candidates who have been on the stage during this election cycle would be willing to take that role?

I asked him that during our Town Hall, who would you pick? He said, ‘I can’t tell you but I know who it is.’ Maybe he’s made a decision or maybe he just has some people very strongly in mind at this point. It’s interesting when someone is running for just four years, not for a second term, so he will want to pick someone who’s going to expand his voter pool a bit because the polling shows a fairly tight race against the current president.

I asked him, ‘Could you see your way to mending fences with any of the people you fight against, to run alongside you?’ And he said, ‘Oh, sure, that can happen, that could happen.’

Whether or not they will want to do it? I think most of them probably would. I think that when you look at someone who’s going to be president for four years and a vice president who’s usually in a very good position to follow up on that, I think politically, most of them would probably like that opportunity. Although, you know, they say up and down on the campaign trail, that they’re not running for second place. We’ve seen this, this routine many times. I’m sure we’ll see what happens this time.

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