Fox News, GOP debate moderator Bret Baier on politics, history

Fox News viewers know Bret Baier as host of the nightly Special Report program, but Baier’s byline has become familiar on history bookstore shelves and e-book listings, too.

Baier, who will serve as one of two moderators for Thursday’s GOP gubernatorial debate in Orlando, said he’s found a historian’s role is not all that dissimilar from that of a journalist.

“It is reporting, but you are reporting history,” he said, noting a lifelong interest in the field though he majored in political science and English while in college.

RELATED: Historian Jon Meacham on Donald Trump, Barbara Bush, his new book

The historical moonlighting began for Baier, an avid golfer, five years ago after a stay in the Eisenhower Cabin during a trip to Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.

“It struck me that while I knew of Eisenhower as a general, I did not know as much about him as a president,” Baier said, recalling how he first started digging, learning and grasping for a story to tell. “Although there have been many books written about [the Eisenhower presidency] I knew there was still another good book in there somewhere.”

On one of a handful of trips to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas, Baier consulted with archivists and settled on the focus of the book he would write — telling the story behind Eisenhower’s farewell address on January 17, 1961.

It was a speech largely overlooked in the wake of successor John F. Kennedy’s more memorable “Ask not” inaugural address delivered three days later. Adding context to the Eisenhower address developed the ingredient Baier said is a staple of historical interest for him — important speeches and moments that have been overlooked or underappreciated by history.

Published in 2017, Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission is a historical forensic examination of the lead-up and backdrop to Eisenhower’s farewell address.

Best known for its warning against a “military industrial complex,” Eisenhower hoped the speech would convince JFK and his incoming administration to tap the brakes on their brash, vigor-embracing and “pay any price” rhetoric and attitudes.

In fact, Eisenhower’s steady, deeply-involved and authoritative style today is viewed with widespread respect in contrast to the image of him as a “fogey” as he departed the White House.

In Three Days in January, Baier uses the speech itself as a lens with which to view and understand Eisenhower’s life, presidency and legacy.

The success of the Eisenhower book catapulted Baier to his next work, Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire, which was published this spring.

“It was very much the same formula that was so successful in the first book,” he recounts.

In this case, it was Ronald Reagan’s speech at Moscow State University during a summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in May 1988.

Baier said historical scholarship and journalism coverage do intersect at times. He points out Three Days in Moscow was released just as President Donald Trump was getting ready to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

“I’m not saying it was completely analogous, but the way the Trump administration talked about the meeting [with Kim] was similar to the way Reykjavik was talked about — whether they would get up and leave and what the results could be,” Baier said.

Or for that matter, the first Reagan-Gorbachev encounter in November 1985. A summit many at the time believed would do little to ease American-Soviet tensions.

“History does provide keys and notes for present and future administrations to learn from,” Baier added.

Thursday evening, though, Baier’s focus will be the Sunshine State’s future as he presses the two Republican candidates for governor, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, with questions during their first one-on-one debate at the Republican Party of Florida Sunshine Summit.

“Florida is a crucial state,” said Baier. “Just about every issue in Florida — guns, trade, immigration — matches the national debate.”

For that reason, Baier said Fox News picked Florida as one of the states to watch closely in the 2018 elections. And within that framework, the “governor’s race is particularly crucial,” he added.

The network’s midterm election series kicked off on May 1 with a West Virginia GOP Senate primary debate.

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