WASHINGTON – The next (and final debate) isn't until Thursday, but President Donald Trump is already trying to pressure and intimidate the moderator, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker.
"She’s always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’ll still play the game," Trump tweeted Saturday. "The people know!"
Thursday's debate is crucial for Trump, who refused to participate in an Oct. 15 showdown with Biden because organizers wanted a virtual debate in light of the president's COVID-19 diagnosis.
Trump enters the Nashville, Tennessee, debate trailing Biden in preelection polls both nationally and in key states, and this will likely be his last chance to reach a vast audience before Election Day on Nov. 3.
Welker hasn't commented, but plenty of colleagues and competitors testified to her fairness and professionalism. They said she will do great when moderating Thursday's showdown between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
"Kristen is one of the toughest, fairest reporters you’ll ever meet," tweeted Kathryn Watson, a White House reporter for CBS News.
She’s always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’ll still play the game. The people know! How’s Steve Scully doing? https://t.co/uS3EWzfFPy
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2020
In addition to the tweet, Trump went after Welker during a Saturday night rally in Janesville, Wisconsin.
"She's extraordinarily unfair, but that's all right," Trump said before launching into a criticism of NBC News anchor Savannah Guthrie, who moderated his town hall Thursday night in Miami.
Trump also criticized moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News ahead of the Sept. 29 debate with Biden, as well as C-SPAN's Steve Scully, who was slated to moderate the Oct. 15 debate that was eventually canceled.
Scully was later suspended by C-SPAN after falsely claiming his Twitter account had been hacked when he posted a tweet asking Trump critic Anthony Scaramucci how to respond to the president's criticism.
Joe Lockhart, a press secretary to President Bill Clinton, said Trump is trying "to undermine the next debate" by attacking Welker, and there are two problems with that strategy.
"First, ask anyone in politics in D.C., D or R and they'll tell you what a real pro she is," Lockhart tweeted. "Second, and this one is for you @realDonaldTrump ... you agreed to her as the moderator."
Despite his recent attacks, many people have praised Welker's reporting during the Trump administration – including Trump himself.
After the second debate was canceled this month, Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller told Fox News Welker would do an "excellent job" hosting the third one.
"I have a very high opinion of Kristen Welker," Miller said. "I think she's going to do an excellent job as the moderator for the third debate. I think she's a journalist who’s very fair in her approach and I think that she'll be a very good choice for this third debate."
Calling on Welker during a news conference in Switzerland in January, Trump complimented her for landing a weekend anchor gig on NBC's "Today" show.
"They made a very wise decision," Trump told Welker.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump attacks Kristen Welker, moderator of debate where he needs a win