Chris Wallace was in an unenviable position, moderating a debate with someone who doesn’t follow the rules. No doubt he prepared for Donald Trump to lie, but nothing could prepare him for a president who wouldn’t allow his opponent to finish most of his remarks. Wallace tried to scold Trump numerous times:
“Mr. President, I am the moderator of this debate, and I would like you to let me ask my question and then you can answer it.”
But Wallace wasn’t forceful enough. The New York Times writes:
Mr. Trump’s onstage intensity and logorrhea have proved a formidable challenge for some of the nation’s leading interviewers. And with the president ignoring the traditional parameters of debate decorum, Mr. Wallace was left with few good options to keep Mr. Trump from chattering without pause.
Wallace seemed to finally try to take a stand against the president late in the debate saying, “Why don’t you observe what your campaign agreed to as a ground rule, OK sir?” When Trump tried to talk over him, he told him “that was a rhetorical question.”
One hour and 13 minutes into the debate, the moderator reminds the president that he’s been violating the rules he agreed to.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) September 30, 2020
ABC compiled some of the moments where Wallace attempted to get the president to stop talking.
"Mr. President, let him answer!"
It took just minutes for the first presidential debate to spiral into chaos, as moderator Chris Wallace tried to contain squabbling, interruptions and shouting, largely from Pres. Trump's efforts to sidetrack his opponent. https://t.co/3V6ri7pVyx pic.twitter.com/l45QyHxYm9
— ABC News (@ABC) September 30, 2020
In the past, many have praised Wallace for being one of the fairest hosts at Fox News Channel. Not this time.
Chris Wallace is literally unable to get Trump to stop talking.
— Susan Glasser (@sbg1) September 30, 2020
The loser of this debate is Chris Wallace
— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) September 30, 2020
Chris Wallace’s career as a journalist should end tonight.
He’s incompetent, lazy & afraid.
— Arjun Sethi (@arjunsethi81) September 30, 2020
Wallace also received criticism from the right and even from some people at his own network.
Fox News host insulting another Fox News host’s moderating skills 👀 https://t.co/ROiOtPSKMV
— Gabby Orr (@GabbyOrr_) September 30, 2020
Donald Trump Jr. even accused Wallace of being left, telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “We knew that was coming anyway with a Chris Wallace. I understand he’s a Fox guy, but he’s no conservative, and he’s no centrist either.”
In the alternate reality of Trumpworld, the President is playing victim, acting like Wallace treated him unfairly.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2020
Chris Wallace owes @realDonaldTrump and the American People an apology after the way he conducted himself tonight!
— Mike Hahn (@mikehahn_) September 30, 2020
So what should Wallace have done when Trump kept bulldozing his way through the debate? Perhaps remind him that there is a certain decorum that’s expected and asked the producers to turn off his microphone when it wasn’t his time to speak.
Threaten to stop the debate. Trump needs the airtime. Chris Wallace and Joe Biden do not. https://t.co/KuoOLPojfX
— Nicolle Wallace (@NicolleDWallace) September 30, 2020
Before the debate, Wallace had commented, “If I’ve done my job right, at the end of the night, people will say, ‘That was a great debate, who was the moderator.” But late Wednesday he admitted he “never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did.” In an interview with the New York Times, he called it, “a terrible missed opportunity.”
“I’m just sad with the way last night turned out.”
And Wallace had this advice for the future moderators, “If either man goes down this road, I hope you’ll be quicker to realize what’s going on than I was. I didn’t have that advance warning.”
He ended by noting, “I’ve been involved in a certain amount of soul-searching… Generally speaking, I did as well as I could, so I don’t have any second thoughts there… I’m just disappointed with the results. For me, but much more importantly, I’m disappointed for the country, because it could have been a much more useful evening than it turned out to be.”
*This post contains opinion and analysis