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2016 Election Observer: Gerard Baker

| Thursday, March 3, 2016

Editor’s Note: Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, The Observer will sit down with Notre Dame experts to break down the election and its importance to students. In this seventh installment, News writer Rachel O’Grady asks Editor-in-Chief of the Wall Street Journal and Managing Editor of Dow Jones Gerard Baker about his experience moderating a GOP debate and covering the election for the Journal.

ROG: It increasingly looks like Trump will get the Republican nomination. What are the implications of that? How does the GOP avoid getting trounced in the general election?

GB: The GOP faces some tough challenges if, as seems likely, Trump is the nominee. Mainstream and so-called establishment Republicans will have to decide whether they can back him, which is difficult for many of them because of his unorthodox views. If they don’t, they will have to further decide whether to actually field a candidate against him in the general election. If they do, they will likely hand the election to Mrs. Clinton, as they will surely split the Republican vote, and at the same time could do even more lasting damage to the party. If the number of Republicans who refuse to support Trump is small — as it could be — I would not rule out at all the possibility that he could win the presidency in November. He has tapped into and articulated a deep anger among many middle class Americans and if he can get them to come out and vote in unusually large numbers, he could beat Mrs. Clinton, who is in many ways not the most skilled campaigner and whose own negative ratings among voters are high.

ROG: You moderated a GOP debate a few weeks ago. Can you give us some insight on how that was? I imagine it’s certainly a unique experience.

GB: It was literally unique for me. It was also a great privilege. I must confess it was fairly nerve wracking. Though I have done plenty of television, appearing live before more than 15 million people for more than two hours in prime time was certainly daunting. But we were very well prepared, and we made a conscious decision to stick very much to policy issues in our questions as opposed to some of the more trivial topics or “horse-race” coverage, which I felt, as editor of the Journal, was appropriate for me. It was a wonderful and invigorating experience.

ROG: What were your goals or aims going into the election season? How has the media played a role in the 2016 election, and has it been different than any other year?

GB: The media has clearly played a very important role in 2016. The attention given to Donald Trump — and the TV ratings associated with him — have been extremely important in his rise. But we shouldn’t forget also that social media has played an increasingly important role. Mr Trump himself is a big tweeter and has gained widespread and sustained attention through his tweets. At the Journal, we have aimed to focus as much as possible on the big topics — with important investigative stories on Trump’s background and Mrs. Clinton’s political and fundraising record, as well as on the other candidates. And we’ve looked hard at the major policy issues and how each candidate would handle them.

ROG: You’ve covered economics for the BBC and you’ve been an economist for the Bank of England. How does the economy play into this election?

GB: “It’s the economy, stupid” was how Bill Clinton’s campaign manager described the key factor driving the election in 1992. And that is still true today. While the U.S. economy has grown over the last few years, growth has been disappointing for millions of people, with stagnant wages and a sense that technology and trade are destroying American jobs. While economic uncertainty and fear is understandable, it is important to try to sift fact from fiction, so helping voters understand the big changes at work in the global economy and how they affect them is a very important role for the Journal.

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About Rachel O'Grady

Rachel O'Grady is a senior Political Science major living in Ryan Hall and is currently serving as an Assistant Managing Editor. Hailing from Chicago (actual Chicago, not the suburbs) she's been a Cubs fan since birth.

Contact Rachel