Advertisement

Fox Business host Stuart Varney gets ready to rumble at the Republican debate (without Trump)

Dana Perino, Stuart Varney and Ilia Calderón of Univision will moderate the GOP primary debate on Fox Business Network.
(Fox News)
Share via

Fox News proved the Republican presidential primary is more than former President 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 6 p.m. Pacific at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. (Fox News and Fox Business Network will carry the event with a Spanish-language feed airing on Univision [KMEX Channel 34 in Los Angeles].)

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 2020 Democratic primary debate.

Advertisement

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 Smartmatic.

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.

Advertisement

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.

Are you surprised, though, that after the last debate, which was watched by a lot of people, that it didn’t really move the needle in the polls? Trump still has a commanding lead.

But it did perhaps move the needle. His support amongst Republican primary voters has gone up since the last debate.

You’re having this event at the Reagan Library. And as a journalist who was around to cover the Reagan administration what do you think Ronald Reagan would make of today’s Republican Party?

Ooh, that’s a good question. I’m not sure. It seems that the Republican Party has moved away from the classic Reagan position in 1980, which was “cut taxes, go for growth.” There is still a large element of the Republican Party which says, “cut taxes, go for growth.” But there’s still a large element which says “spend,” and that is a significant part of the Republican Party today. Look, this debate is going to bring out the policy, personality, and accomplishments of the candidates other than Trump. That’s the objective of the debate. That’s what they’re going to be judged on. I think they’re all going to wait — they’re all going to try for a breakout. Trump’s got a huge lead; they need to break out. What will they say?

You tend to be pretty blunt on your program. You told Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie that he has zero chance to win. How did he react to that when he was off camera? Did he say anything?

No, he did not. I do offer opinion on my program, as you know. But in a debate I’m neutral. I simply want the best debate possible to get the most out of the candidates for the audience.

Advertisement

Anne Dias, who raised questions about Fox News coverage following the Jan. 6 insurrection, will leave the board in November.

Sept. 22, 2023

In preparing for this debate with “Noticiero Univision” co-anchor Ilia Calderón who works alongside Jorge Ramos, a tremendous advocate for the Latino community on the immigration issue, I’m wondering if you’ve gotten any new insights into the situation at the southern border.

We’re looking for new voice in a presidential debate, and Ilia will supply that new voice.

But have you talked to her about the immigration issue and approaching it perhaps in a different way than we see it reported on Fox News?

Well, I’ve talked about it a lot on my program, and I believe it will come up in the debate. How it comes up is another story. Ilia will have a lot to say about that.

Ilia Calderon
Ilia Calderón attends the 2023 TelevisaUnivision Upfront at Pier 36 on May 16 in New York City.
(Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images)

In 2019, you had a discussion with former Congressman Joe Walsh in which you said that Trump has never lied to the American public. That clearly isn’t the case. Do you still believe that statement?

I made a professional mistake. I got into an argument with a guest. I shouldn’t have done it.

Advertisement

What was the mistake?

Responding to a guest’s question in the heat of the moment.

You were the first person to report from the New York bureau of CNN when it launched in 1980. Do you remember what the story was?

Yes, I do as a matter of fact. CNN was launched from Atlanta on June the 1st, 1980. The next morning I opened up the New York Bureau and represented CNN from New York for the first time. And the first story was something called — which you’ve never heard of — the London Gold Fix.

That sounds like another era.

Prehistoric, man, I’m telling you. And in those days a bunch of gold dealers got together in London and fixed the price of gold for that morning. There would be an afternoon gold fix. And that was because communications around the world were nothing like they are today. It had to be done in person. But that was my first story on CNN way back. It would’ve been June the 2nd, 1980.

You’ve been in the U.S. for decades. You’re an American citizen. But you still sound unapologetically British on your program.

Advertisement

Oh, stop it — stop it — stop it. Listen, if I ever tried to imitate an American accent to you now, you, sir, would be on the floor rolling. I can’t do it. I don’t know why I can’t do it. I can do Australian, I can do New Zealand, I can do Scots, I can do Cockney, but I cannot do American. And I’m never going to do it again on American television.

Did any executive ever try to change your accent or say “You’ve got to try to sound more American, Stuart?”

No. But back in 1976 or ‘77, I went into the newsrooms of the three networks in San Francisco asking for a job in TV news. I had experience working for Radio Hong Kong for a couple of years. And I went in asking, “Hey, here I am. I know the news business,” and they all said, “No. You cannot record with an English accent.” And they said, “Look, supposing you were to report on a murder in Oakland with a voice like that. Stuart, you’ve got no credibility,” and that was that. Eventually I answered an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle, and the ad said, “Wanted: entry-level TV newscaster.” And of course I called up. I’m an entry-level TV newscaster. And it was a financial program on Channel 20 in San Francisco. Back in those days it was the ethnic channel. And a couple of guys had bought three hours of air time early in the morning to put on a financial show. And they figured that a British accent worked just fine. They gave me the job and here I am.

Advertisement