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How Dana Perino, G.O.P. Debate Moderator, Walks a Fine Line at Fox News

Dana Perino can punch and parry with one of the best of them. But she could possibly be higher at ducking.

In 2008, when Ms. Perino was the White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, she received clocked within the face with a increase microphone within the scuffle that broke out after a journalist threw his shoes at Mr. Bush.

“I had a black eye for six weeks,” Ms. Perino, now an anchor for Fox News, stated in an interview final week from her sun-dappled Upper West Side condo.

That form of fracas — and the almost two years she spent taking questions from reporters within the White House briefing room — could also be good preparation for her subsequent act: moderating the Republican presidential debate on Wednesday in Simi Valley, Calif.

It would be the largest second for Ms. Perino at Fox News since she started co-hosting “The Five” in 2011. Not recognized for being as provocative or partisan as a lot of her colleagues behind the desk, Ms. Perino, 51, has spent a good a part of the final decade making an attempt to thrive as a Bush Republican working for a community the place loyalty to former President Donald J. Trump is commonly the ticket to excessive rankings and the profession development that accompanies them.

Ms. Perino, who additionally co-hosts the two-hour morning information present “America’s Newsroom,” is among the comparatively few White House aides to make the leap from politics to information anchor. She says she modeled her transition after two different former West Wing workers members who had made the transition — George Stephanopoulos, the ABC News anchor who served as Bill Clinton’s communications director, and Diane Sawyer, additionally of ABC, who was an assistant to Richard M. Nixon.

Current and former colleagues stated that she has managed to persevere at Fox by being neither a Trump supplicant nor fierce critic. During the raucous discussions on “The Five,” she will be able to typically be seen ducking the fray, flashing a understanding smile as her co-hosts mock Mr. Trump’s liberal antagonists.

And she feels no have to ship the pro-Trump monologues that different conservative hosts have made a staple of their packages.

“If she tried to fake it, she knows people would see through her,” stated Tony Fratto, a former Bush administration official who labored with Ms. Perino within the White House and stays a pal. Mr. Fratto stated that Ms. Perino’s independence was one thing she was decided to maintain whereas working her method up at the community.

“She’s very rational and respectful of people with different views,” he stated.

Ms. Perino is among the few Fox anchors to have by no means interviewed Mr. Trump. And she doesn’t seem particularly keen to take action.

When Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News over its promotion of conspiracy theories referring to Mr. Trump’s loss in 2020, a few of Ms. Perino texts along with her colleagues grew to become public, revealing how little she considered the previous president and his claims that in depth voter fraud value him the election. She stated as a lot on air as effectively and instructed Mr. Fratto, who was representing Dominion at the time, in a single textual content trade how she was being threatened. “The maga people are crushing me for it,” she wrote, “and I even have death threats now.”

Asked final week whether or not she would like it if Mr. Trump participated on this week’s debate — he’ll skip it, as he did the talk final month in Milwaukee — Ms. Perino wasn’t precisely brimming with enthusiasm.

“Sure,” she stated. If she had been advising Mr. Trump, she stated, she would encourage him to go. But she additionally stated she believed his absence presents his rivals with alternatives to interrupt out in ways in which have eluded them thus far.

She stated she believed that the final debate, which was hosted by her Fox News colleagues Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, was not significantly profitable for the candidates as a result of they spent a lot time interrupting one another.

“The candidates made a decision to break the rules, and to talk over each other,” she stated.

She won’t draw back from interrupting them in the event that they do the identical, she stated. And she doesn’t concern taking part in the function of schoolmarm if she must. (Her co-moderator within the debate, Stuart Varney of Fox Business, isn’t any shrinking violet both.)

“I’m happy to be that,” she stated, including that she hopes that isn’t obligatory. “I think that for them, they should not want that either, right, because it didn’t help them. If you think about that debate, there was no consensus of who won.”

Preparing for the talk may be a thankless process, as many moderators earlier than her have found. The candidates typically dismiss the fastidiously drafted questions the moderators have written.

Friends and former colleagues stated that Ms. Perino has a knack for preparedness that exceeds most.

“When she would prepare President Bush for press conferences, you’d go through the anticipated questions,” stated Ed Gillespie, who served as counselor to the president throughout Mr. Bush’s second time period. “A question would come, and it would be one that Dana said would come. And then there would be another that Dana said would come. And a third. And every single question would be one that Dana said would come.”

Her Fox colleague Greg Gutfeld, a fellow host on “The Five,” stated he pokes enjoyable at her for a way she involves the present armed with a pocket book stuffed with concepts primarily based on the information articles which might be driving the day. “Unlike me, she reads the articles. She’s like the grade-A student in your class,” Mr. Gutfeld stated. “She doesn’t throw it in your face. But she’s prepared.”

Former colleagues stated that Ms. Perino wasn’t one to tug her punches when it got here to briefing the president, which she at all times got here to extensively prepped.

“If you’re preparing the president, you have to do it nicely, of course, since he’s the one who was elected,” stated Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state throughout Mr. Bush’s second time period. “But you also have to be willing to say, ‘Mr. President, that answer isn’t going to fly.’ Dana did that. And I think President Bush respected her for it.”

Ms. Perino’s second act as a information anchor places her again the place she began her profession proper out of school. After working as a disc jockey on the in a single day shift at a nation music station in Pueblo, Colo., she graduated from the University of Southern Colorado and moved to the Midwest, ultimately touchdown a job as a reporter for a tv station in Champaign, Ill. She determined a lifetime of overlaying native information — vacation parades, municipal authorities conferences — wasn’t for her.

“I didn’t see how you could get ahead quickly. And I had an ambition,” she defined, including that she by no means noticed herself turning into “the replacement for Tom Brokaw.” When she left native information, she stated, she thought that will be the top of her time in tv information. “I really thought if I do this I’ll never work in TV again.”

Her first large job within the Bush White House got here in 2006 when, after holding a collection of communications jobs all through Washington, she was employed at age 34 because the deputy press secretary beneath Tony Snow, a former host of “Fox News Sunday.” He stepped down in 2007, after being recognized with colon most cancers. Mr. Bush named Ms. Perino as the brand new press secretary.

“She can handle you all,” the previous president told the room of journalists. Now, she is the journalist. And the G.O.P. presidential candidates should deal with her.

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